Sam Green claims he didn’t know what he was doing when he arrived in 1965 as the first full-time director of the Institute of Contemporary Art. Despite experience working at New York’s conveniently named Green Gallery and mounting one “pre-pop art” show at Wesleyan University, Green dryly remarked that he landed the job this way: “Well, I don’t think there were any other candidates.”
For many in the art world, Green is a legend. In his three-year tenure at the ICA, he managed to turn the eye of the press toward exhibitions of cutting-edge contemporary artists. As Senior Curator Ingrid Schaffner said on Dec. 3 at the ICA’s first lecture in a series celebrating their 40th anniversary, Green’s hire was heralded with excitement. He managed to sustain that level of excitement with shows like “Decisive Years—1943-1953,” an impressive collection of abstract expressionism works by Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollack, Clyfford Still and others.
But it was the Andy Warhol retrospective in 1965 that solidified Green’s legacy and helped to put the ICA on the map. With exhibition slides as their backdrop, Green spoke with critic and author Judith Stein G’67Gr’81 about his experience before, after and during the famous exhibit.
Green wrote to Campbell’s Soup to obtain labels for invitations to the preview. To compensate the show’s cost overrun, Warhol consented to create posters of S&H Green Stamps to sell. For the show, Green donned a silk tie patterned with these stamps, and single-handedly painted the gallery floor silver, just like the floor at Warhol’s New York studio, The Factory. Green said with a chuckle, he promised exclusive coverage to three television stations.
Crowds crammed into the ICA gallery in the Victorian Furness building for the public opening and waited for more than two hours for Warhol and Edie Sedgwick’s arrival. Green remembered that the frenzied crowd—greased by music, dancing and liquor—crowded around Warhol and shouted, “Grab his clothes!” Like a pack of rock stars, Green and company raced up a flight of stairs, hoping to escape out of a roof window. The window was blocked, and Green stood on a balcony with Warhol and Sedgwick for hours, protected from the crowd by several policemen. Finally, Facilities staff arrived to saw open the roof hatch, and the three escaped down the fire escape into waiting police cars.
The frenzy wasn’t about the art, since Green had removed virtually all of Warhol’s work after a painting had been damaged the night before. Said Stein, “The fact that there were no paintings on the walls really tickled Andy.”
Responding to a question from an audience member about how the show affected Warhol’s career, Green said, “He was a good deal more famous after the show. Edie Sedgwick was a terrific accoutrement.”
Originally published on December 11, 2003