When Rick Friedman says, “I have some really nice paintings,” he isn’t making an idle boast so much as an understatement. The founder of Hamptons Contemporary: The Home Design and Décor Show has over three hundred works by twentieth century masters in his private collection. A Picasso, “a small piece, a 1954-whatever,” which he has only seen in photographs, is due to arrive from Paris on the week that we speak. He bought it at a Sotheby’s auction. Paintings and works on paper by Matisse, Modigliani, and Miró cover the walls of his house. There’s a De Kooning in the bathroom.
What’s most surprising is that Friedman, a serial entrepreneur, only began collecting twelve years ago. “I thought it might be nice to put some local artists on the walls,” he explains modestly. At the time he’d been reading Helen Harrison’s Hamptons Bohemia, about the origins of the Abstract Expressionist movement, so off he went to Guild Hall, to see if he could buy a piece of history. He came home with a 1978 Roy Lichtenstein print, Nude on the Beach. De Kooning and Jackson Pollock would have to wait. “The Lichtenstein wasn’t a lot of money,” he recalls, “but it was the most I’d ever spent on an art work. I still have it.” That first acquisition launched him. He went on to snap up five paintings by Jackson Pollock–”They hardly ever come on the market, and when they do you have, like, fifteen minutes to make a decision”–and eight De Koonings, which he considers the anchor points of his collection. Friedman likes to joke that he’s never met a painting from the 1950s that he doesn’t like.
Ten years ago, he created the art fair, ArtHamptons (which he sold in 2015). Under his stewardship, the three day-long fair, Friedman says, attracted nearly 14,000 visitors and 90 galleries. Later, his combined passions for art and interior design led him to establish Hamptons Contemporary. Friedman is evangelical about the joys of art collecting. He’s especially fervent about works by local artists of international renown, which he feels have a place in every well-appointed Hamptons home. His own 5,500 square-foot contemporary house in Southampton is a showcase for the jewels of his collection. “When I walk around the house at night, surrounded by greatness, I’m overwhelmed,” he says. He urges others to bring great art into their lives. “If you shop around, you can build a heck of a collection,” he says.
And if you should run out of wall space, you can follow Friedman’s lead and loan your works out to a museum. Two paintings that he owns are currently on loan to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. One is Calder’s Baseball (1966) and the other is Elaine De Kooning’s watercolor, The Baseball Catch (1960). (The De Kooning hangs next to an iconic 1948 painting by Norman Rockwell called Tough Call) Friedman says, “It’s the one where the umpire’s looking up and the rain’s coming down. “