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Hamptons Life

Oct 21, 2019 2:39 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

At Home With Rick Friedman, Art And Baseball Collector

Artwork covers the walls in Rick Friedman's Southampton home. DANA SHAW
Oct 21, 2019 3:45 PM

A large sculpture by Los Angeles artist Guy Dill greets visitors as they pull up the inclined driveway to Rick Friedman’s Southampton home.

Entering through the front door, they see a wall covered in framed artwork, and an entry bench covered in throw pillows, each featuring a different design. Mr. Friedman puts a challenge to his first-time guests: Pick out a pillow and match the artist to a work of art on display in his house. He gives them three minutes to compare their pillow of choice to the scores of sketches, paintings and sculptures to see.

“Some people can do it, and some people can’t,” Mr. Friedman said last week as he gave a tour of his home. The art continues in the living rooms, the bedrooms, and even the kitchen.

Though the works are by famous artists, some pieces Mr. Friedman owns are not in the medium that the artist is renowned for. Among his art collection, Mr. Friedman has paintings by famous sculptors, and drawings by famous painters. And many of the artists he collects influenced each other.

Mr. Friedman fired off the names of the artists as he walked past: Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, John Chamberlain, Cy Twombly, Ellsworth Kelly, Dorothy Dehner, Karel Appel, Arman, and on and on. “This is Ross Bleckner. If you’re going to live in the Hamptons, you gotta have a Ross Bleckner. And you have to have an Eric Fischl, right?”

The collection runs the gamut, from as early as 1910 to recent works by living artists, but his focus is on abstract expressionism.

“That’s my sweet spot: abstract expressionism, the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. A little pop,” Mr. Friedman said. “I got sort of carried away with some things here and there, but that’s really the collection.”

The tour included his vast art collection — “There’s no prints or anything. These are all the real deals,” he emphasized — and on his baseball memorabilia collection, one that any sports fan would envy.

Mr. Friedman has worn many hats, but on the East End he is best known as the founder of ArtHamptons, an international modern and contemporary fine art fair that he ran every summer for eight years, before selling his portfolio of fairs in 2015 to Atlanta-based Urban Expositions, which put on the last ArtHamptons in 2016.

It’s rare to find a photograph of Mr. Friedman at ArtHamptons — or any event, really — without Cindy Lou Wakefield. Often appearing joined at the hip, they curated the art collection at Mr. Friedman’s home together. In fact, the collection spills over to Ms. Wakefield’s home nearby, where, like Mr. Friedman, she is running out of wall space.

“We’re best friends,” Ms. Wakefield said. “I like to say ‘partners with art in the middle.’ That’s the way I describe our relationship. I live very close to him, and we’re always together. We’re talking art and reading Christie’s and Sotheby’s and going and traveling. So we’re best, best friends.”

It was their love of drip painter Jackson Pollock that brought them together.

Ms. Wakefield, a reading specialist who has worked for Southampton School District for more than 30 years, had received a grant with other educators in 2003 to create video conference lessons on Pollock, and she and her colleagues worked out of the Pollock-Krasner House in Springs, where Pollock had lived with his wife, Lee Krasner. They named the pre-lesson “Jack the Dripper.”

Mr. Friedman admitted he “knew nothing about art” 15 or 20 years ago. But then he read “Hamptons Bohemia” by Helen Harrison, the director of the Pollock-Krasner House. He learned of all the famous painters who painted in the Hamptons in the 1950s and 1960s, he said.

Realizing their mutual interest in Pollock, they got to talking — and they’re still going. “We never stopped talking about art,” Ms. Wakefield said.

Mr. Friedman caught the collecting bug when he had the opportunity to buy a painting by Elaine de Kooning, who lived and painted in East Hampton with her husband, Willem de Kooning.

“I was so excited to get an Elaine de Kooning painting,” Mr. Friedman recalled. “I put it up on my wall, and soon it got me going. And I bought a second one, a third one. So, over the past 15 years, I have, like, 300 paintings.”

When the opportunity presents itself, he likes to create juxtapositions of the works.

At the top of the stairs leading to the second floor, he displays opposite each other a Norman Rockwell sketch and a Diego Rivera painting — America’s most famous painter, and Mexico’s most famous painter. In a bathroom, two depictions of women are hung: a 1910 drawing by Vienna Secession artist Gustav Klimt, and a 1970s drawing by Playboy magazine artist Mel Ramos.

Though there are no bare spots on his walls now, Mr. Friedman noted that some of the art collection was recently removed. He loaned 35 works to the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, for “Heroines of Abstract Expressionism,” an exhibition, solely drawn from his collection, that runs through the end of the year.

The works range from 1949 to 1980 and represent 19 artists, among them Krasner, de Kooning, Audrey Flack and Mary Abbott. It’s the widest survey ever done of female artists from the era, according to Mr. Friedman.

The pieces had been integrated throughout the house among other artists’ works, he said, and he took others out of storage to fill in the gaps they left behind. “I had a second team, so I put the second team out,” he said. “I had the backups to the starting team.”

It’s not the first time Mr. Friedman has loaned out pieces of his collection. Soon, he intends to lend his Pollocks to Guild Hall in East Hampton. “I’m known as the ‘Prince of Pollocks,’” he said. He owns six in all, but not in Pollock’s familiar drip style. “Before he dripped, he was, like, a surrealist, and he did all kinds of shapes and people and things,” he said.

On another occasion, when Mr. Friedman was asked to loan a piece, he had bought a work by Pablo Picasso at a Christie’s auction in Paris. He wanted to bring it home immediately but couldn’t. “It’s a national treasure,” he was told. “It’s a Picasso. It can’t leave the country.”

The 1954 drawing depicts a man carrying terra-cotta, which Picasso and his friend would paint, Mr. Friedman explained.

It took a year for all the museums, including the Louvre, to give their approval for the Picasso to go with Mr. Friedman to the United States. Finally, he framed it and put it on his wall. “I got an email the next day: ‘The National Museum of Picasso and the Louvre want to borrow it,’” he recalled.

So he and Ms. Wakefield got a passport for the art — the work required its own passport to travel internationally — and they brought it back to Paris. “Who says no to the Louvre?” he said.

Whether lending parts of the collection locally or internationally, he never has to be concerned that his walls will look bare. In one room of his house, he has more paintings in storage. “This is, like, the third team,” he said.

Mr. Friedman bought the house, located in The Highlands neighborhood of Shinnecock Hills, in 2008. Ms. Wakefield had recommended he buy it, knowing that he needed a house with a lot of walls. It also comes with a sizable pool and a basketball half-court, and he put in a putting green. “I sort of let it go,” Mr. Friedman said of the latter. “It’s an overgrown putting green now.”

It was also Ms. Wakefield who suggested he start an art fair on the South Fork and call it ArtHamptons. “My hobby became a business, which is really cool,” he said. “It’s hard to do that.”

He expanded with events in Aspen, San Francisco, Palm Springs and Silicon Valley. More recently, he has put on home design and jewelry fairs in Southampton and fine art fairs in Philadelphia, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Denver, Colorado. They just couldn’t stay away from art.

“We missed it, really,” Ms. Wakefield said.

A new art fair on the East End may also be in the future.

“The Hamptons can use a very high-end show, a very elegant but fun show that actually honors the tradition of the Hamptons,” Mr. Friedman said. “So my vision is, if we do it, to bring back the art from the painters who painted in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and all the big names. Because this is a great, historic place for art. I mean, it’s incredible.”

Mr. Friedman never hung his own collection at any of his art fairs. “It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s really the galleries selling their works.” But he admitted that, sometimes, he buys at his own fairs: “I eat my own cooking, as I say.”

Mixed among the art on his walls is a black-and-white photograph of Mr. Friedman, sporting a tuxedo and a mustache, with Andy Warhol. They met in the late 1970s, when Mr. Friedman was the emcee of a disco dance contest with celebrity judges at Régine’s Nightclub in New York. One of those celebrity judges was Warhol, and they became friends.

“It was a big thing in New York at the time. It was a big scene,” Mr. Friedman said.

He sold that show to Merv Griffin Productions — and it became “Dance Fever,” a syndicated television program with Deney Terrio taking the role of emcee.

Before Mr. Friedman was a dancer, he was a baseball player.

“When I was a kid, I lived in Brooklyn, and I really wanted to be a ballplayer,” he shared. “I was, like, 14, 15 years old, and I used to go to Yankee Stadium. And I used to almost sleep at the ballpark, because I wanted to be there when the ballplayers came in, in the morning. So, finally, one of the ballplayers came over to me and said, ‘Kid, what’s your story? How come you’re always here?’”

That player was outfielder Jim Lyttle, and he asked Mr. Friedman if he’d like to help out the Yankees. He invited Mr. Friedman into the clubhouse and gave him a job throwing balls back during batting practice.

“From hanging out with the guys, I got a confidence,” Mr. Friedman said. “So I got to know all the guys. I became pretty good — high school, college, semi-pro — and I tried out with several major league teams.”

He played second base and shortstop and said he likes gloves, because he was a great defensive player. “So I was a ballplayer. Never signed a pro contract, but had fun.”

And that’s the reason behind his second collection: baseball memorabilia, with a focus on current and future members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“I used to have one of the largest collections of baseball bats, but I sold it,” Mr. Friedman said while heading to his basement, where, rather than art, the walls are covered with displays of autographed balls, mitts, photographs, bats and more.

He had more than a hundred Hall of Fame bats before, and now he has a couple of dozen. Though he has fewer bats, it remains an impressive collection. “That’s Babe Ruth’s bat,” he said as he passed one Louisville Slugger.

None of the bats are replicas. “Some bats are actually slightly used, some not used, and some are used a lot. There’s actually a rating. The more the bat is used, the higher the rating,” Mr. Friedman said, pointing out the pine tar on a well-used Willie Mays bat.

He also has the jerseys of Derek Jeter, Pete Rose, Doc Gooden, Willie Mays, Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and more.

And then there are the autographed baseballs: “This ball here is the rarest ball in the world. It’s 1927 ‘Murderers’ Row’ Yankees. It’s amazing — only about maybe 100 of them in the world. They’re very, very valuable, very expensive. It’s the Murderers’ Row Yankees. Everybody’s in the Hall of Fame from that team. It’s very hard to get.”

The most expensive thing that he owned, but sold, was Jackie Robinson’s 1955 ball cap. “It went to auction, and it exploded,” Mr. Friedman said. “It was bought by a famous baseball player. It was bought by Bryce Harper, who is one of the highest-paid ballplayers in baseball now.”

As he has sold other items, his collection of baseball mitts is growing. He’s trying to corner the market in Hall of Fame gloves, he said. He’s well on his way: He has gloves that belonged to Jeter, Rose, Ken Griffey Jr., Mariano Rivera, Keith Hernandez, and others.

It’s not often that his love of art and love of baseball mix, but he does have a couple of pieces of baseball art, most notably “Baseball,” a 1966 work of gouache on paper by Alexander Calder, which Mr. Friedman said was the first artwork to depict players of various races together.

He lent that work plus Elaine de Kooning’s “The Baseball Catch” to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown in 2016 for the “Art of Baseball” exhibition. It was through that exhibition that Mr. Friedman built a relationship with the Fenimore Art Museum that led to the “Heroines of Abstract Expressionism” exhibition.

He and Ms. Wakefield continue to collect the work of Krasner and other abstract expressionist women, Mr. Friedman said. “Women ab-ex painters from the ’50, ’60s, ’70s are exploding. All of them.”

Of all the artists they collect — though Ms. Wakefield is a Fairfield Porter fan and even named one of her golden retrievers after the painter who lived and worked in Southampton — they agree that Pollock remains their favorite.

“We met over Pollock, so whenever a Pollock comes up we’re like: ‘We gotta get it! Let’s go!’” Mr. Friedman said.

“They’re not making any more Pollocks,” Ms. Wakefield added.

“We still collect aggressively,” Mr. Friedman said. “We’re still acquiring pieces. It’s sort of like an addiction — a collector has a mindset.” Collectors always want more and want better.

“There’s always better out there, right?”



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