April 20, 2016

The Art of Eating

The scoop on John Riepenhoff’s delicious projects.

“Everyone responds to food,” says John Riepenhoff, an artist and curator whose medium often shifts toward the edible. “You put a little food into someone’s mouth in an art experience, and it releases endorphins in their body. They have a good time.”

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Riepenhoff makes and organizes art that fuels communities—whether through a series of paintings done in the style of his friends; the Green Gallery, an internationally known space that he launched in his attic with partner Jake Palmert; or a bowl of chili he concocted that contains every known edible bean in the world. This series of projects began in 2004, when Riepenhoff brewed an IPA to commemorate the opening of the Green Gallery.

What began as an opening-night refreshment has grown into a full-fledged operation. In 2015, he teamed up with Milwaukee-based Company Brewing to produce a line of beers signifying some of his work, and the resulting Green Gallery India Pale Ale now sits alongside two of his other brews, the Friends Blue Dress Park Porter and the Poor Farm Pilsner. Each has a flavor profile and recipe based on certain qualities of its namesake; for instance, Poor Farm is a Kunsthalle—a German non-collecting art house—so Riepenhoff designed a crisp northern German beer to embody it.

All of the proceeds of the project are donated to support their namesakes. Culinary aesthetics are not exactly new; artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija have used food and the social act of eating to highlight art’s role in communities. Riepenhoff also presents food culture as a lens to focus on the importance of regional heritage. For his Double Cream Colby project (2015), he doubled the milk fat of Wisconsin’s favorite cheese, turning the Kraft mainstay into a lavish celebration of regional culture, which holds its own against similar cheeses from France.

“With my beer or cheese projects, a lot of people think that I’m reinforcing a cliché of what a Wisconsinite is, but I see these projects as resources.” His most recent edible project, the Every Bean Chili, debuted at the opening reception of his Marlborough Chelsea show. Every edible bean in the world—which adds up to 104 varieties— simmered in a base derived from Riepenhoff’s father’s wild-game chili recipe, and was served topped with the aformentioned Double Cream Colby.

The finishing touch? Naturally, the dish was paired with the artist’s beers. Cheers!