Jane Greer, pioneering Soho artist, dies at 81

Jane Greer at a book party at her loft in 1989.

BY JONATHAN GREENBERG | Jane Ruth Greer died peacefully on Dec. 15 at the age of 81 in the Soho home that she shared with her beloved husband of 50 years, art gallerist Manuel Greer.

A native Brooklynite, she was an accomplished, extraordinarily prolific artist, as well as a published poet of five anthologies. Jane received a B.F.A. from New York University during the late 1950s and then studied at the Art Students League. Her inventive modern work was exhibited at dozens of fine art galleries in five countries during the past 55 years. These shows included early ones at the innovative galleries that brought the New York art scene Downtown, including the Franklin Furnace, the A.I.R. Gallery, 112 Greene St., 3 Mercer St., the Apple Gallery and Poets House.

Jane was a true Renaissance woman. Although her Soho loft was the social center for her three children, seven grandchildren and many, many friends and relatives, Jane was a most unusual matriarch. Rather than enforcing convention, she lived to defy it.

Starting with a break from her Orthodox Jewish upbringing, Jane journeyed into the early dawn of the modern women’s movement, with a short-lived first marriage at the age of 19 to escape from a restrictive past into the barefoot, braless Beatnik art scene of the 1950s and sexually liberated ’60s.

Jane was a pioneering and accomplished artist, with a loft on Chambers St. that predated the Soho art scene by decades. Her older brother Victor married Leonard Cohen’s older sister Esther during the mid-’50s. Soon after, Jane and Leonard Cohen frequented Washington Square Park and the smoky poetry cafes of Greenwich Village, years before the minstrel had published his first song.

An artwork by Jane Greer combining cut paper and paint on canvas.

Jane Greer’s first New York art show was in 1963, four years before the Summer of Love. She was an artist in the ’60s, as well as an artist of the ’60s, a divorced young woman whose autonomous, independent lifestyle in Downtown New York was itself a revolutionary product of the period.

Former Lower Manhattan City Councilmember Alan J. Gerson knew Jane for more than 40 years.

“As one of the very early Soho artists taking up loft residence for her family and her art in 1975, Jane Greer helped pioneer the transformation of Soho from a desolate, former manufacturing area to a vibrant center for art,” Gerson said. “Her own iconic works of art continue to occupy an important place in the Downtown art scene. Her outspoken persona occupied an important place in the Soho social scene. As recently as last summer, she could be seen holding court at her regular outdoor table at Silver Spurs on LaGuardia Place or near musicians in Washington Square Park.

“As a councilmember and friend,” Gerson added, “I always appreciated her political and personal words of advice. Jane has moved on to the next realm. But she will endure forever in the hearts of her husband, children and grandchildren, whom she loved and who loved her passionately, as she endures in our community fabric.”

An artwork by Jane Greer including cut paper and watercolor.

Jost Elfers, a publisher and longtime Greenwich Village resident, lived with his artist partner Pat Steir in the Wooster St. loft building Jane shared during the ’80s.

“I have known Jane for 35 years,” Elfers said. “She was one of the best silhouette paper cutters in the world. Jane needed to have an X-acto blade in her hand and cut papers for hours a day. She was a Buddhist sympathizer and this was her meditation. It is great art in the school of Henri Matisse: She is a third-generation paper cutter of an excellent kind. And because she did it more than 10,000 hours, because she was a manic paper cutter to keep herself sane and sound, in the end she got very good at it.”

Throughout her adult life, Jane carried the soul of the artist into every moment of her spiritually rich, magnificently active life. She was a tireless walker and a voracious reader, spending hours browsing and buying books at the Strand each week.

Jane leaves behind her loyal, ever-understanding husband of 50 years, the art dealer Manuel Greer. The couple met at Greer Gallery, at 35 W. 53rd St., right near the Museum of Modern Art, when Jane saw a painting she liked in the window and came inside to talk about it with the gallerist. They married in 1968, and Manuel became the sober, gracious foundation upon which she grew her life and work, the life partner that once she married, she could never live without.

Together with their extended families, the couple celebrated Jewish life and holidays while embarking upon decades of spiritual exploration that took them to India for weeks each year to learn from the teachers Osho and Papaji.

Osho told his students to “Get Out of Your Own Way,” and Jane Greer modeled this easily, opening her life to new ideas and artistic exploration not as a follower, but by living as an authentic, one-of-a-kind Downtown New York artist.

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