James Zemaitis
Senior Vice President & Head of 20th Century Design, Sotheby's
01:25

Does thinking about design as art undermine its function?

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No, but not every piece of design should be touched.

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

James Zemaitis: In my market, no, because people . . . When I . . . When I exhibit my works of contemporary design at Sotheby’s on our kind of, you know, number one space – our 10th floor Richard Gluckman design area where work is meant to appear in a contemporary museum setting, I don’t want people necessarily to touch these works. Every . . . The last couple of seasons we’ve sold these tremendous Ron __________ sculptural masterworks that he produced in the early 1990s; you know where every fingerprint almost gets permanently recorded on that piece; and you know the new collector has to, you know, pay to have everything wiped off again. I mean that’s the opposite of sitting in a chair and being comfortable, isn’t it? I mean it really is . . . It’s all about giving design this high art, you know, high aesthetic kind of aura to it that increases the value.

Recorded on: 1/30/08


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