The Green Gallery in Milwaukee is making contemporary art accessible to everyone

MILWAUKEE — One of the most unique art galleries in Milwaukee is hiding in plain sight.

The Green Gallery is a free commercial, conceptual, and contemporary art gallery inside of a mid-century building reminiscent of Americana drive-thru car culture.

"I originally started the gallery basically to serve my community. I was seeing amazing artists in this community that weren’t getting opportunities to show at other commercial galleries or other institutions in the region. And I thought as an artist myself, if I’m having this experience, I know others are too," John Riepenhoff, The Green Gallery owner and artist, said.

John Riepenhoff is an artist, executive director of Sculpture Milwaukee, and the owner of The Green Gallery.

He opened the gallery at 1500 N Farwell Ave. in October 2008. It features artists and attracts guests from all over the world including places like Paris, London, and Tokyo. However, at the same time, people are coming from Mukwonago, Shorewod, and the surrounding neighborhood. The Green Gallery hosts about 12 exhibits a year.

Contemporary art isn't always as easy to understand as more classic art like the Mona Lisa or Statue of David. However, since the gallery doesn't charge patrons, Riepenhoff hopes that makes contemporary art more accessible and invites people to ask questions about the genre.

"Kind of challenging our preconceived expectations of aesthetic beauty. And I think great art isn’t just necessarily about creating pleasure, but it's also about giving ourselves a new perspective on our world," he said.

Despite how unique the building is, it's easy to miss. It's tucked way to the side of Farwell Avenue making it easy to drive past. Plus, there isn't any signage outside the gallery that indicates it's an arts space. There is no large banner that says The Green Gallery. What's more, it's only open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. A small sign in the bottom corner of a window indicates when the space is open.

“By just reducing the amount of clutter and the amount of signage in a space, you can have a, you know, more intimate experience potentially with the art itself," Riepenhoff said.

That's the same reason you won't find the title or price of that art on the wall. It's all about creating a minimalist and subtle aesthetic in the gallery.

"The title isn’t necessarily a part of the physical artwork. The title is something that is, you know, additional information, so we try to keep the space really clean," he said.

The building is a piece of art itself. The mid-century structure was built in the 1970s for the Adelman dry cleaning company. The building changed owners a few times and was a fast-food restaurant briefly. Eventually, the building was left vacant. Riepenhoff discovered

the building in the late 2000's and decided to move the gallery from Riverwest to its current home in 2008.

Outside the gallery is something unique as the gallery itself. It's a toilet strapped to a tree. The art is titled Toilet Tree like toiletry.

“In some ways, it’s quite simple that it’s appropriated toilet strapped to a tree. But in other ways it's really kind of humorous and profound and playful and beautiful," Riepenhoff said.

It’s not part of the gallery. The art is part of Sculpture Milwaukee. Riepenhoff is also the executive director of the organization.

“They’re materials part of our everyday experience, but at the same time they are re-framed in a new environment.”

If you do like the art inside the gallery, it is available for purchase. The cost of each painting ranges from a few hundred dollars all the way up to tens of thousands of dollars, Riepenhoff said.

Contemporary art isn't always easy to understand. But since The Green Gallery doesn't charge visitors, it allows people to challenge the art, question it, and enjoy it.