The Best Little Art Gallery in San Francisco

Richard Greene built a law firm and a cultural institution in one

Published in 2007 Northern California Super Lawyers — August 2007

Tax attorney Richard Greene remembers the first time he saw a painting by famed surrealist Joan Miró. “I saw those squiggly lines and said, ‘I could do that,’” he laughs. Since then, Greene has developed a much deeper appreciation for modern art. In fact, the Embarcadero offices of Greene, Radovsky, Maloney, Share & Hennigh are themselves a veritable art museum displaying 200 pieces on loan from the collection that Greene and his wife, an art history buff, have built over the past 20 years. 

The eclectic mix of contemporary art winds gracefully through the office—paintings, lithographs and sculptures run along the hallway walls, pop up in stairwell corners and hang above copy machines. As Greene leads a tour, his lively anecdotes about each piece highlight the unique spirit of the collection. He recounts the unconventional route he took to acquire one of the most unusual pieces—a sculpture of a basketball game set inside an old suitcase. After seeing a photo of it in Sports Illustrated, Greene called the artist, Peter Buchman, and bought it directly. Greene jokes about a colorful Roy de Forest oil painting that hangs in the conference room claiming, “De Forest cost me a client.” When a client asked about purchasing the piece and Greene declined to sell, the client called the next day to say he’d be seeking new counsel. Pausing at a series of Christopher Brown lithographs taken from stills of the John F. Kennedy assassination, Greene explains, “The first time I voted was for Kennedy.”

Greene feels a special connection to the Brown lithographs for another reason—he helped the artist acquire the rights to the stills used to create them. In fact, Greene frequently helps artists with tax or business matters and receives payment in the form of artwork. Other clients and former clients whose works are on display include sculptors Robert Brady and Fletcher Benton, painters Squeak Carnwath and Roland Peterson, and ceramicist Peter Voulkos.

Greene’s involvement in the art world reaches beyond his own collection. After doing a substantial amount of pro bono work for the SFMOMA, Greene was asked to become a member of the museum’s board of trustees in 1997. The following year he was elected board president, a post he still holds. Greene and his partners also continue to do pro bono work for the museum.

For an attorney who spends much of his time cracking tax code and brokering complex business transactions, Greene’s own art-collecting methods have been surprisingly spontaneous. “When my wife and I would look at art and see things we really loved, we’d buy them. That’s not a rational way to do things. But then, buying art isn’t rational.”

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