James Zemaitis
Senior Vice President & Head of 20th Century Design, Sotheby's
02:59

How is design changing?

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Designers have become much more business-savvy, Zemaitis says.

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: I do feel as though that designers are much more savvy about working with big bucks retailers and working with a wider array of markets in terms of price point. And as a result there is an endlessly growing appreciation of that term “design”. And you know and you can thank, you know, companies like Target. You can thank even . . . Even you might say you could thank companies like Restoration Hardware; which Restoration Hardware has really changed a lot over the lat couple of years I’ve noticed as an outside observer. But early on six, seven years ago, Restoration Hardware was frequently kind of reissuing lost . . . lost artifacts of American industrial design from the ‘20s and ‘30s. And that was a very exciting time for me, you know watching . . . watching cocktail shakers from the ‘20s being rediscovered. Like … penguin cocktail shaker which for a while was kind of like the unofficial mascot of the Cooper-Hewitt. It was available through Restoration Hardware in a re-issued format. And I think obviously today the growth of modernism as a market in terms of the resale of pieces means that there is a lot more reissuing going on than there ever was in the past. And so whole programs like Vitra, which is really a hybrid of a museum design collection and a furniture manufacturer . . . you know this entity in Germany has shaped so much of what we collect, you know, and what we use in our homes because they reissue icons by like Prouve and Noguchi for the first time that were not available in a mass market version.

I would say the thing that excites me the most is not going to Miami and seeing the latest at Art Basel, and seeing the limited editions being … for six figures. I think what excites me the most is opening up the New York Times in their home section, and they’re talking about some, you know, husband and wife team in Brooklyn who have discovered a new doily that they’re making out of, you know, some sort of recycled moss. And that’s just . . . That’s what excites me. It’s that endless search for something new. And it’s also the rediscovering the past and being able to use today’s market to reintroduce it.

Recorded on: 1/30/08

 


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