Self-proclaimed gallerist to the stars—and godfather of the American Arts and Crafts movement—Tod Volpe catered to such clients as Streisand, Willis, and Geffen. But living beyond his means on other people’s money landed him in federal prison for two years for fraud. Now he’s back with a new memoir, Framed.
Describe your life before prison.
If I wanted a Steinway piano, they’d deliver it that afternoon. I’d spend $100,000 on an exhibition.
And how did your Hollywood friends react to the FBI investigation?
Jack Nicholson said, “Why didn’t you just tell me you were having financial problems?” But I couldn’t say, “I fucked up”—especially to someone like Jack!
Do you think you deserved to do time?
Dede Brooks was given six months’ house arrest. Why didn’t she go to jail?
And what was prison like?
I’m sitting in my cell in California, and somebody rushes in with an envelope. It’s the Streisand sale at Christie’s, “Important American Arts and Crafts”—but of course, that movement wouldn’t exist without us! Then the guard says, “Okay, Volpe, get against the wall, I’m going to check your locker for any chicken from the mess hall.”
I thought of showing only prison artists. My cube was across from a Chinese man, one of San Francisco’s wealthiest real-estate entrepreneurs. He’d sit at his window drawing, and I’m saying, “My God, this guy’s as good as any artist in New York!” But my life in the art world is finished. I’m working on a film project now. I’d like to do what Frank Abagnale did with Catch Me If You Can.