Saturday, August 21, 2010

Person of Interest | Tod Volpe

The article The Six-Figure Fish Tank Catches On appeared in yesterday's New York Times. The article quoted one aquarium owner describing a jellyfish tank as "living art" while Tod Volpe called his tank his "life force".

Tod Michael Volpe's room-dividing tank.
Photo courtesy of Robert Presutti for The New York Times

Tod Volpe is a name that most people probably haven't heard much of since 1997 when he was convicted for art fraud, stripping him of status and fortune in a dramatic turn of events. In the article, Jennifer A Kingson reports, "Mr Volpe was once a high-flier in Hollywood who bought artwork for celebrities like Barbra Streisand and Jack Nicholson, but in the late 1990s he pleaded guilty to defrauding them and served time in jail. Today, he said, the aquarium is part of his healing journey."

Notes on The Man, The Legend
  • Volpe was raised in poverty with an abusive father.
  • Pioneered the American Arts & Crafts movement by rescuing Mission pieces from flea markets, restoring them, and selling them in New York.
  • Obtained a Mission-style desk designed by Charles Rohlfs by telling the owners it was fake, though he believed otherwise. Then sold the desk to a wealthy client by fabricating a romantic tale about how the desk remained in an old mansion for generations. He clinched the sale by informing the would-be buyers that the desk would appear in a book -- a book which Volpe co-authored. The desk is now part of the permanent collection of the Virginia Museum.
  • At the height of his career as an art dealer, his clients included Jack Nicholson, Barbara Streisand, Bruce Willis & Demi Moore, Arnold Shwarzenneger & Maria Shriver, Joel Silver, Lawrence Gordon, Richard Gere, Harvey Keitel, Terry & Jane Semel, Robert & Nancy Daly, Carole Bayer Sager, Don Simpson, Barry Manilow, Tim Curry, Francine Le Frak, Joe Weider, Marry Ellen & Robert Zemeckis, Kathleen Kennedy & Frank Marshall, Renny Harlin & Geena Davis, Andy Warhol, Harold Becker, Linda & Jerry Bruckheimer, Patsy & Steve Tisch, Rowland Perkins, Jack Rapke, John Hughes, Max Palevsky.
  • According to Volpe's website, he has been involved with the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Victoria & Albert Museum, The British Museum, The Musee Dorsay, The St. Louis Art Museum, The New Jersey State Museum, The Delaware Art Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The National Academy of Design, The Corcoran Museum, The Smithsonian, The Clarke Institute, The Boston Museum of Art, The Newark Museum, The Copper Hewitt, The Phillips Collection, The Oakland Museum, The Museum of the City of New York, The Richmond Museum of Fine Art, The High Museum, and The Chicago Art Institute.
  • Instead of standing trial, which would have revealed the unscrupulous, secret world of art dealing, Volpe pled guilty to 37 counts of art fraud and served two years in a federal U.S. prison. When he came out of prison, he published Framed, which reveals the unscrupulous, secret world of art dealing.
  • The first post of his short-lived blog is dated July 15, 2008. The second -- and last -- post is dated January 11, 2009.
  • Used to live in Hollywood and drive a Porsche Cabriolet. Today lives in a studio apartment in Manhattan's Murray Hill neighborhood.
"I’d like to do what Frank Abagnale did with Catch Me If You Can." November 2003

"I always gravitated towards breaking new ground with art since my former partner and I opened the Jordan Volpe Gallery in New York in 76 and broke gound in the American art world,, pioneering a style of collecting that has become an international phenomenon." July 2008

"The days of getting 100 million for a painting by telling this billionaire and that one that someone else is going to steal that piece from them if they don't bid on it are over." January 2009

"My work is not about dealing art its about helping people in the art world and in the business world find their way through the maze. And to help people learn how to love art again and enjoy it for its own sake not because it is an item of luxury how I started at flea markets restoring things I loved and helping others see the beauty in things." January 2009

It is being whispered that Tod Volpe's next chapter may involve Shanghai...

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