James Zemaitis
Senior Vice President & Head of 20th Century Design, Sotheby's
01:57

Are your collections meant for use or admiration?

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Much of what Zemaitis sells is just for display, though he has many clients who use the work for interior design.

James Zemaitis

James Zemaitis began his auction career in 1996 at Christie's, where he worked for three years in the 20th Century Design department. Prior to his arrival at Sotheby's in 2003, Mr. Zemaitis organized a series of groundbreaking sales at Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg, where he was Worldwide Head of 20th-21st Century Design.

From his record-breaking $21.5 million sale total in December 2003 and the landmark sale of the Farnsworth House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to the National Trust, to our December 2006 offering of New Life for the Noble Tree: The Dr. Arthur & Evelyn Krosnick Collection of Masterworks by George Nakashima, Sotheby's has raised the market to new heights, commanded extraordinary attention from the press and attracted a host of new collectors.

In the past five years, Mr. Zemaitis has been profiled in The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine, House & Garden, Art & Auction, Wallpaper and Cargo. In May 2006, he was voted "one of the 200 most influential New Yorkers" in New York magazine. Mr. Zemaitis serves on the Boards of The Wolfsonian, Miami Beach, and Manitoga: The Russel Wright Design Center, Garrison, New York.

Mr. Zemaitis received a B.A. in Art History from Oberlin College. He pursued graduate work in American Architectural History at Rutgers University.

Transcript

Porochista Khakpour: The work that I sell for the most part is meant primarily for looking at. Nonetheless, many of our clients . . . Many of our biggest clients at auction are interior designers or interior designers/architects who are both buying furniture for their clients to use to put into the media room, but also serving as curators of their clients’ lifestyle and their clients’ taste. So a . . . I mean one of the . . . If you were to say, “What’s my best seller in my world?” Well bestseller is a Nakashima coffee table. Because here is this gorgeous slab of wood – “the soul of the tree”, as Nakashima famously said – that was created in the ‘60s or the ‘70s. And it was, you know, made by Nakashima and the men and women that work in his studio. And if you were a doctor or a lawyer in Princeton, New Jersey, you drove out there. You bought the coffee table from him, and a year later it was delivered to you. You got sketches of it. He helped you . . . He helped pick out the piece with you. If you look at that, well today’s collector is still using the coffee table in the same way as the first owner is. So when that piece that was, you know . . . is sold by the original owner with me at auction, the person buying it is more than likely putting it in their living room in front of their sofa just like that original client in New Jersey did. And so it is going to be used. And they are going to put, you know, coffee table books on it and do things like that. But there’s still a lot of what I sell today that is more about stand alone kind of sculptural aura, definitely.

Recorded on: 1/30/08

 

 


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