|Sam Green with Christine Biddle and Heather Cohane, January 2007.|
|We ran an obituary last week from the Times of London, written by Hugo Vickers about Sam Green, an American art dealer/curator/ international gadabout who died this past March 4th at age 70.
I knew Sam Green, although very superficially. He was a friendly fellow to meet and full of interesting, often intriguing, bits of frequently provocative information – just in passing. Which gave it its own kind of charm.
He had a particular kind of curiosity that I share. For example, when we met, because he knew I was a friend of Lady Sarah Churchill, he told me a story about the time she was clearing out the Southampton house of her late grandmother, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan who had recently died. Madame Balsan who had lived well into her late 80s, had accumulated massive amounts of personal belongings and wardrobes dating all the way back to the turn of the 19th century to the 20th. Her granddaughter Sarah, seeing little use in anything that had no auctionable or practical domestic value, tossed all kinds of things that are now considered treasures to today’s collectors.
Although I didn’t know Sam well, after publishing his obituary last week, I learned from those who knew him, more about his very labyrinthine social and emotional life. He was a bit of poseur at times. He made stuff up if it suited his objectives. For example, he called himself Samuel Adams Green to promote the idea that he was related to the Adamses of Massachusetts, especially Samuel, one of the founders of the Commonwealth. Whereas Sam’s middle name was the same as his father Sam’s middle name: McKee. Samuel McKee Green.
He was an adventurer in the jungle of the social order. There is a timeless type of character you will find prospecting in the canyons of Manhattan. They follow social lights. They become arbiters in a sense, or at least in their own minds. They are at the center of the Zeitgeist at a memorable moment. Sam was one of those.
Their lives are their creations and their occupations. Sometimes it becomes good for cinematic and/or publishing purposes. All kinds of things can happen. Even murder.
I’m telling you all this because the other day the Telegraph of London also published an obituary on Sam Green. This one offers another view of the man, enhancing the portrait you might begin to paint of him in your mind’s eye.
Sam Green, who died on March 4 aged 70, was a leading light in the promotion of American pop art — particularly the work of Andy Warhol — and later became known for his close association with celebrities as diverse as Greta Garbo, Cecil Beaton and John Lennon.
Samuel Adams Green was born in Boston on May 20 1940. In later life he would claim descent from the Bostonian Samuel Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and from two American presidents. His father, also Samuel Green, was Dean of Fine Arts at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
|Sam Green with Andy Warhol and (centre) Edie Sedgwick at the artist's New York studio, The Factory.|
|At the end of his freshman year at the Rhode Island School of Design, Green abandoned any academic aspirations to launch himself on the New York art scene. When, aged 22, he was introduced to the avant-garde art dealer Richard Bellamy, owner of the Green Gallery on 57th Street, Bellamy was amused by the coincidence of the names and hired him on the spot to man the front desk.
In 1964, after less than six months at the gallery, Green secured the loan of more than 50 works which, through the influence of his father, were exhibited at the Davison Art Center at Wesleyan University. Within the colonial splendour of the Davison, Green installed some of the decade’s most audacious art: Tom Wesselman’s Great American Nude #39 hung above a Boston sideboard, whilst Yayoi Kusama’s Ten Guest Table, a dining table and chairs festooned with phalluses, replaced the early Regency furnishings that normally occupied the space.
One afternoon in 1963 Andy Warhol, then relatively unknown, wandered into the Green Gallery. He mistook Sam for a relation of the owner, and Sam — never one to downplay his credentials — did nothing to disabuse him. It became a relationship of mutual exploitation. Green perceived in the then unknown Warhol a new and explosive direction for “pop art”, while for his part Warhol saw in Green an entree to New York society.
Green became director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 1965, when he was only 25, and he took Warhol with him, the two men making their museum debuts together; it was Warhol’s first retrospective. Green chose Warhol’s S&H Green Stamps as the 40x40cm invitations he sent out for the preview – and for the design of the silk tie that he wore under his white Gucci evening suit. For a space that held 300, he invited 6,000.
On the afternoon of the preview, one of Green’s specially installed lighting fixtures fell down, damaging one of Warhol’s paintings. Faced with a choice between keeping the room’s distinctive cinematic lighting or Warhol’s paintings, Green opted for the lighting: although they were re-hung the following day for the benefit of the public, all the pictures were removed from the walls for the private view.
|Sam Green with Countess Pucci in Peru, 1970.|
|The event therefore went ahead “art-less”, and resembled more a frenzied film premiere than a private view. Green made his entrance alongside Warhol and his muse, the socialite Edie Sedgwick, who wore a Rudi Gernreich dress with 20ft-long sleeves.
Green’s tenure at the ICA lasted three years. In 1967, having been refused permission to organise a campus-wide sculpture exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania, he abandoned “the philistines” and turned to the city authorities to support an exhibition in Philadelphia that brought together works by artists such as Barnett Newman, Tony Smith and Philip Johnson.
It was deemed a triumph, and Green returned to New York an acknowledged master of contemporary art installation. The city’s then mayor, John Lindsay, appointed him a cultural adviser.
Within six months Green had overseen “Sculpture and Environment”, an exhibition sponsored by the city of New York. He hired a team of gravediggers to work on the construction and deconstruction of Claes Oldenburg’s Earthworks, executed in the shadow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The complaints of conservative art critics were as loud as the accolades that Green received in the national and international press. Not along afterwards Green shut down the 59th Street Bridge and both lanes of Park Avenue to install a giant Easter Island Moai head in the forecourt of Seagram’s Plaza.
|Sam Green portrait by Cecil Beaton, courtesy of Sotheby's.|
|The idea was an impulse in response to the outrage at the planned conversion of the island into a jet-refuelling station. The campaigners were successful, and the bulldozers on Easter Island stopped.
Green “retired” from the modern art scene in 1970, when he was only 30. Thereafter he concentrated on cultivating celebrities and members of the European aristocracy. In 1969 he had been introduced to Cecil Beaton, and he now enthusiastically accepted the role of travelling companion to the great photographer.
Through Beaton, Green got to know many of the rich and titled people of Europe, some of whom remained friends for the rest of his life. In 1971, at Cecile de Rothschild’s home in the south of France, he met Greta Garbo and the two formed an immediate bond. Green would spend 15 years walking Garbo through the streets of New York; she addressed him as “Mr Green”, he called her “G”.
|Producer Jean Doumanian and Sam Green, 2007.|
|His other friends included John Lennon and Yoko Ono, whom he escorted to Jimmy Carter’s 1976 Inauguration, to which he had secured an invitation. Later that summer he accompanied John and Yoko to Egypt, where his contacts at the Cairo Museum of Art allowed them access to an archaeological dig from which Yoko bought numerous treasures. Green would often speak of the moment in 1980 when he heard of Lennon’s death, which he commemorated annually at Mortimer’s dining club on East 75th Street.
In 1969 Green had a brief but tumultuous affair with Barbara Baekeland, wife of the American Bakelite heir Brooks Baekeland. Barbara, a ludicrous figure who imagined herself as a sort of latter-day Zelda Fitzgerald, became obsessed by Green, once walking barefoot across Central Park in the snow wearing nothing but a lynx coat to demand entry to his apartment.
Green was played in the film by Hugh Dancy, and later wrote: “I will concede that I am brilliantly portrayed by Hugh Dancy. He is stunningly well dressed, and looks exactly as I did. It is as if he raided my wardrobe from those days.”
Not so well-received, however, was the description in the film of Green as “a homosexual walker who spends his time tending to the needs of very rich women”. “Although I never married,” Green wrote, “this is untrue and a slur.” He embarked on legal action against the filmmakers which was still unresolved at the time of his death.
In the last three decades of his life Green spent most of his time campaigning to preserve “sacred sites” around the world, from Bhutanese monasteries to Buddhas carved in the mountainsides of Sri Lanka. In 1997 he established the Landmarks Foundation, one of America’s leading organisations for historic preservation.
In 2007 he observed: “The work I do now is not a reaction against a life spent mixing with the rich, it is a continuation of it. I put all the contacts I have made in my career to good use.”