Freidenrich’s Artful Idea

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Denny Freidenrich stands next to Andy Warhol’s 13-color silkscreen of Jane Fonda. The 1982 print measures 31×39 inches and is signed by both Fonda and the late artist. Photo courtesy of Denny Freidenrich 

Denny Freidenrich, who moved to Laguna more than 50 years ago, is clearly a visual arts champion.

As a young boy growing up 15 minutes from Stanford University, he fondly remembers his parents’ interest in art. 

“I knew the Miro and Chagall posters my parents had been hanging were inexpensive,” Freidenrich said. “What mattered more to me were the images themselves.” 

With this backdrop in mind, it’s not surprising the 1970 University of Southern California graduate, now nearly 75 years old, has nurtured a deep love of the visual arts for decades.  

Beginning in the mid-1970s, Freidenrich often would drive from Laguna to the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena. Then, in 1980, he and his first wife, a professor of contemporary art history and studio art at Orange Coast College, began helping friends and corporations collect works by David Hockney, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Martha Alf, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Barbara Kasten, Richard Diebenkorn, Gwynn Murrill, Robert Rauschenberg, Vija Celmins, Sam Francis and many other artists. 

Two years later, Freidenrich Contemporary Art (FCA) published the Andy Warhol celebrity portrait of Jane Fonda. The sale of 100 silkscreen prints raised $250,000 for Fonda’s husband at the time, anti-war activist Tom Hayden. It was his first campaign for the California Assembly. The following year, FCA created a portfolio of works by several artists to support Arts & Architecture Magazine.

At the same time the couple’s art consulting business was taking off, Freidenrich was retained by the trustees of the former Newport Harbor Art Museum to underwrite the costs associated with a special Edvard Munch exhibition. (For those who need reminding, Munch was the Norwegian expressionist who painted “The Scream” in 1893.)    

“The goal was to raise $150,000 in eight weeks. We did it in six,” Freidenrich said. “Not only that, a record high 43,000 people saw the exhibit.” 

The following year, Freidenrich tapped several 30-something friends, including locals like Michael Ray, Bernie Schneider and David Stein at the time, to help him launch the museum’s Contemporary Club, Orange County’s first major fundraising group whose members were all young professionals. That club was so successful he was asked to help promote membership in Center 500, a separate group of young professionals dedicated to supporting the original Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Along the way, Freidenrich acquired works by Ken Price, Nathan Oliveira, Sylvia Mangold, Peter Shire, Toby Klayman, Irv Tepper, Julia Nee Chu and many other artists. Then, in 2001, while serving as Laguna Art Museum’s development consultant, he dreamed up the idea of placing personalized tiles in the lobby of the museum. Each one sold for $1,000.  

“We had a public unveiling of 108 tiles,” Freidenrich recalls. “It was a thrill helping donors find their tiles.”     

Last year, the boy who once admired the works of Miro and Chagall, publicly admonished Wells Fargo for its “wrongheaded decision” to suddenly remove an entire quilt exhibition by Allyson Allen. The bank’s decision was widely criticized on all forms of social media. 

Today, he has another artful idea in mind: to paint the city’s sidewalk maintenance covers (formerly known as manhole covers). 

“Cities like Miami, Seattle, Germany’s Berlin, Ecuador’s San Cristobal and Spain’s Toledo, have done this, so why not Laguna? Think of them like the banners that typically fly during the summer, only these would be on permanent display for people to admire while walking around town,” he said.

Those interested in supporting the maintenance cover idea can email [email protected].

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