Photographer Ethan James Green Prizes 20th-Century American Art, Handmade Gifts, and a Family Ring He Never Takes Off

We asked the photographer and founder New York Life Gallery about the things he values most—in art and in life.

Ethan James Green, 2023. Photo: Chuy Medina.

So much of the art world orbits around questions of value, not only in terms of appraisals and price tags, but also: What is worthy of your time in These Times, as well as your energy, your attention, and yes, your hard-earned cash? 

What is the math that you do to determine something’s meaning and worth? What moves you? What enriches your life? In this new series, we’re asking individuals from the art world and beyond about the valuations that they make at a personal level. 

Ethan James Green is the definition of a cultural multihyphenate. Celebrated for his daring yet elegant eye as a photographer, Green recently earned accolades for his effervescent, just-enough-Barbie portrait of Margot Robbie, for Vogue’s Summer 2023 cover. He’s also garnered headlines this summer for an entirely different venture—his curation of the exhibition “Sleeping Beauties” at his gallery New York Life—which he founded in Chinatown in the fall of 2022.  

“Sleeping Beauties” brought together a grouping of historic paintings in figuration and portraiture by artists whose contributions to 20th-century American art have largely been obscured. Among the show’s discoveries was the work of Helen Hatch Inglesby, an American artist who painted captivatingly tender portraits, as was that of Russian-born American artist Raphael Soyer, whose brooding paintings hint at a more visceral Hopper-esque world.

Meanwhile, this summer, Green has also launched Collect, an online platform that offers works by well-known and overlooked historic artists at a number of price points.

When he’s not behind the camera or in the gallery, Green can be found connecting people from his various Venn diagrams of interests and exploring downtown Manhattan.  

Recently we caught up with Green and found out what he values in art and life—and why.  

What is the last thing that you splurged on? 
An Arthur B. Davies painting.  

What is something that you’re saving up for? 
More 20th-century American paintings.

What would you buy if you found $100? 
I would tip with it! 

What makes you feel like a million bucks? 
My Serge Lutens perfume.  

Daniel Arnold, Untitled (2017). Courtesy of Ethan James Green.

Daniel Arnold, Untitled (2017). Courtesy of Ethan James Green.

What do you think is your greatest asset? 
My approach to problem-solving. 

What do you most value in a work of art? 
When it feels alive and can stand the test of time. 

Who is an emerging artist worthy of everyone’s attention? 
Drake Carr is the full package. 

Who is an overlooked artist who hasn’t yet gotten their due? 
David Armstrong deserves it all. 

Installation view "Sleeping Beauties" 2023. Courtesy of New York Life Gallery.

Installation view of “Sleeping Beauties,” 2023. Courtesy of New York Life Gallery.

What, in your estimation, is the most overrated thing in the art world? 
White frames.

What is your most treasured possession? 
My family ring. I hate taking it off.

What’s been your best investment? 
My Thomas Hart Benton painting. 

What is something small that means the world to you? 
Handmade gifts from friends. 

Raphael Soyer, Nude Reclining in Bed (1945). Courtesy of Ethan James Green.

Raphael Soyer, Nude Reclining in Bed (1945). Courtesy of Ethan James Green.

What’s not worth the hype? 
Concrete and salvaged wood as a luxury concept. 

What do you believe is a worthy cause? 
Making this world a safer place for the trans community.  

What do you aspire to? 
I want to work with my generation to take New York to its full potential. I’ve always loved the who-is-who energy and can say I am surrounded by a lot of incredible people. 

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