John Riepenhoff, Milwaukee-based artist and gallery owner, talked to the Lawrence community on Jan. 15 in the Wriston auditorium. Riepenhoff, who was born and raised in Milwaukee, has a knack for starting non-traditional galleries and running art events. He attended University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and his art has been displayed around the world. His passion for creating spaces for art and experimental ideas was apparent during the talk, and he was able to show the audience a full hour’s worth of projects that he created or spearheaded.
In 2004, Riepenhoff started the Green Gallery in his Milwaukee home. This idea stemmed from not having a professional experimental creative space that was accessible to artists and musicians in the area. This gallery, which was Riepenhoff’s house, had a room for bands and make-shift bands to experiment and record, as well as a gallery space for artists and non-artists to work and display their art. Riepenhoff wanted to create a place that could act as temporary cultural space, a place for an experimental, experiential studio where everyone could be an artist. Friends would come to jam together and draw and paint and display their work on the walls of the apartment. They had events where the guests brought any piece of art they had made, and a large portfolio exchange was created. Polaroids of each participant and their art was taken before the exchange. Green Gallery plays with the idea of conventional art and what an artist is. The gallery expanded from his home into a makeshift gallery space in a warehouse that Riepenhoff constructed himself. After this change, the space became a bit more reachable and professional, paving the way for Riepenhoff to create more unconventional spaces for art.
Because Riepenhoff sees the social aspects of galleries as a material in itself, the commercial art fairs becoming popular were frustrating to him. They were non-personal and not focused on the art and artists, but instead on the money. To fix this, Riepenhoff started Milwaukee International Art Fair, where small galleries from around the world came together in an intimate event to talk about art in the community.
Keeping with the intimate gallery experience, as an installation project Riepenhoff created “The John Riepenhoff Experience” (the name poking at gallery egoism), a box where guests are inviting to poke their head into one at a time. Inside the box is “the world’s smallest art gallery,” and this project has shown around the world, exhibiting real tiny art shows.
Riepenhoff wanted to create an intimate art experience similar to the magic feeling of being in a dark movie theater. The project allowed for easy art exchanges, opportunities for artists to test out installation ideas on a small scale and is an easy piece to ship around the world.
Riepenhoff describes himself as a platform artist, and mainly provides and creates opportunities for other artists to create and show their work. He is a working artist himself, but mainly works through supporting artists and creating community. He has another gallery open in Milwaukee that is a bit more professional (as in, he has an actual permit and building for it), where there are has many shows and opportunities for local and non-local artists. Riepenhoff’s talk at Lawrence was a good way to encourage young artists and let them know that they don’t have to wait for opportunities in art, they can create them.