Tourists don’t line up outside Richard Greene’s law firm. But if art lovers knew about the treasure trove inside, they might beg for a peek at the paintings, lithographs and sculptures lining the firm’s walls.
Greene, a name partner at Greene Radovsky Maloney & Share, and his wife Lorrie, have been collecting art for the past 20 years. More than 200 pieces from their collection are spread through the firm’s offices at 4 Embarcadero.
Wandering the halls is like stepping into a secret museum. Greene has an eclectic collection of contemporary works from prominent artists in the Bay Area and elsewhere. The offices, which overlook the San Francisco Bay, provide a dramatic backdrop for the display.
“I think we’ve got an incredible space with the views and the light,” said Greene. The art work “adds a great deal to the environment so it’s quite unique – a personal enjoyment.”
Greene declined to estimate the value of his collection, which he said he has pursued for fun. Many of the pieces reflect that spirit, including a whimsical paper construct of a New York subway car. Um atleta de esportes stands among serveral cartoon-like riders. The work is part of Red Grooms’ “Subway” series, his life-size version of a subway car appeared at New York’s Whitney Museum.
“It’s the only time my wife went with me to make sure I didn’t overpay,” said Greene, who bought the piece at auction.
Greene built most of the collection more spontaneously. “[My wife and I]looked at art, and if we saw things we really wanted, we’d buy them. That’s not a rational way to do things, but buying art isn’t rational.”
Greene obtained one of the most eye-catching pieces – a sculpture of a basketball game set inside an old suitcase – after seeing a photo of it in Sports Illustrated. Greene called up the artist, Peter Buchman, and bought it directly.
Each piece has a story behind it. Take the colorful Roy De Forest oil painting hanging on a conference room wall. One day, a couple came in to get Greene’s advice on their estate, and the husband sat staring at the abstract, which features several dogs, a common theme in De Forest’s work. The client finally asked Greene how much he had paid for the piece. Greene couldn’t recall but at the man’s insistence he gave him some figure.
“I’ll buy it,” the man said. But Greene refused to sell. The next morning, the wife called to say they would be seeking new counsel.
“I tell people De Forest cost me a client,” Greene joked. Greene doesn’t have a favorite piece, he said, although some have special meaning to him. For example, Christopher Brown did a series of lithographs from stills of the Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy’s assaissination. Greene said the first time he voted was for Kennedy.
Many of the artists featured in his collection have hired Greene to help them with estate planning, tax or business matters and paid him with their work. He helped Brown purchase rights to use the Zapruder stills. Other clients and former clients whose works are on display include the painters Squek Carnwath and Roland Peterson, sculptors Robert Brady and Fletcher Benton and the ceramicist Peter Voulkos.
Some of the works have even more personal connections. In a window, reflecting prisms of light, sits an acrylic sculpture by Greene’s boyhood friend Bruce Beasley. Pointing out the piece, Greene recalled a project Beasley had pitched when the Transamerica Pyramid was being built in 1970. Beasley wanted to buid a Lucite piece on top of the building, and Greene – who had represented the person who sold Transamerica Corp. the final piece of property for the project – got him an audience with the company, although it ultimately rejected the plan.
Some works suggest a sly sense of humor. A Philip Soosloff sculpture titled “The Rise and Fall of Modern Man,” features a group of men in suits huddled together in an open, yo-yo-shaped elevator. Greene said he had wanted to put the work in the firm’s lobby, but a women partner objected so it hangs on the wall in his office instead.
Greene has loaned out several items for exhibition, including Gregory Hill’s wire sculptures of basketball star Michael Jordan, Olympic runner and jumper Carl Lewis, and Cuban Olympic high jumper Javier Sotomayor. Greene commissioned Hill to do the sculpture of Jordan doing one of his famous dunks.
A full-service corporate firm, the 27-lawyer Greene Radovsky isn’t known as an artist hangout. But Greene has close ties to the art scene. He joined the board of trustees of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1997 and the following year was elected board president, a post he still holds. Greene and his partners do a substantial amount of pro bono work for the museum, and Greene has rallied other firms to lend their services as well.
Greene’s artistic connections go beyond the museum milieu. Tucked on his office shelves is a Russian matryoshka doll modeled after a member of Metallica; dolls of the three other band members are nestled inside each other. Greene said he saw the doll at a flea market in London.
“The owner told me ‘you wouldn’t know that band,'” Greene recalled. In fact, Greene has done estate planning for members of Metallica.
While Greene obviously delights in his collection, others at the firm appreciate it as well. At the staff’s request his wife put together a written tour of the exhibit, designating the artist and title of each piece and its location within the firm.
“We work in an environment that’s not significantly different than wandering around the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,” said Mark Hennigh, managing partner of the firm. “It’s a treat.”
By Brenda Sandburg
Recorder Staff Writer