How is scientific innovation changing design?

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 would absolutely say that it’s . . . it’s all about what Paola Antonelli called the mutant materials aspect of contemporary design. It’s enabling contemporary designers to work in synthesizing materials that they could never have done in the earlier technologies. And it’s also about, of course, the working with CAD. They’re working with computers to create these kind of computer-generated models. That’s certainly what and you know, work in frequently. That said, I myself kind of love the DIY approach to design. I still love designers who are recycling work and doing it in a kind of almost like guerilla style; not taking advantage of today’s technology. A designer that I didn’t mention before that I really should name drop here, because I think he’s also one of the most brilliant guys today, is Tom Dixon who’s based in London. And Tom Dixon in the late ‘80s, when him and Ron … were among the group of young guys working in London – almost kind of like the bands that were coming out of London. There was almost like a similar style, you know, between the underground of bands that was coming out of Manchester in the late ‘90s, and the guys working in London in the late ‘80s. But Tom Dixon back in the late ‘80s was recycling old rubber steering wheels and using them as the anchor for his chair, which he then wove basketry on top of to create this fusion of natural materials and recycled auto parts. Dixon, again like Jasper Morrison, is probably one of the most important designers of our times who is not a huge force on the secondary market. You know his work does not get anywhere near the same prices as Marc …does. But I think that’s also because he’s dedicated more of his career to creating design programs for companies, and for still working in a bit of that DIY aesthetic really instead of licensing and harnessing these, you know, commercial editions.

Recorded on: 1/30/08