In 2004, a young business executive named David Lenhardt attended an auction at Christie’s New York. Surrounded by art world veterans, the former PetSmart CEO remembers being intimidated when he placed his winning bid for a print of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn in Day-Glo pink. “When we won, they all looked at me and were like, ‘Wow, who’s this young kid?’ That was our introduction to the auction world. And it was a good one,” he said. Since then, Dawn and David Lenhardt have only acquired more art, moving from editioned works on paper to painting, sculpture, and more. The Warhol print, however, still hangs in their Phoenix home as a small but sentimental reminder of the collection’s origins.
Now totaling around 60 pieces, the collection comprises mostly the work of living artists, allowing the two to learn more about the works by speaking directly to their creators. “I think one of the important things when you’re collecting is the story behind the art,” Lenhardt said. “Getting to know the artists just helps you with the story.” In the collectors’ dining room, Arcmanoro Niles’s 2018 Go Home to Nothing (Hoping for More), portraying people in a bar, none of whom look at each other, hangs opposite Eric Fischl’s 2018 Island of the Cyclops: The Early Years, which shows a young boy whose hand covers the top half of his face as he stands behind his mother, who smokes blithely in a swimming pool facing away from him. At the gallery opening where the painting first showed, David recalled Fischl telling them, “That boy up there? I’m convinced that boy doesn’t have an eye.” David continued, “This nugget that Eric gave me exploded the meaning of the painting and the way I look at it.” Together, the two pieces parallel each other in the “disconnectedness” of the subjects they depict.
David recently invited Niles to present a lecture at the Phoenix Art Museum, where he’s vice chair of the museum’s board. In 2017 the couple launched the Lenhardt Contemporary Art Initiative, which aimed to raise the profile of the museum’s contemporary art collection through a series of lectures and acquisitions. In 2021 the museum announced an expansion of the program, highlighting artists promoting discourse around race, gender, and other important social issues.
The Lenhardts also sit on committees at the Whitney Museum in New York: both are on the National Committee, and David is on the Paintings and Sculpture Committee. “The relationships we’ve developed through these groups have been very rewarding,” Lenhardt said. As collectors, he added, “you always have some art you’re thinking about, but it’s the journey and the friends that you make. It’s broadened who we are.”