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.
James Zemaitis I think there’s several choices that you can make. On one hand, if you want to kind of acquire the classics of modernism; if you want to participate in the international style; if you want to embrace the …house; embrace great American organic design of the ‘50s, and you’re not interested in increasing the value of what you’re acquiring; if you just want to use these great pieces and create a simple modernist lifestyle, then really you can do no wrong with looking at a catalog, you know, from Design Within Reach because what they’re doing is licensing and re-issuing the classics. In some cases they’re selling works that have always been available. I mean the great Barcelona chair by… has been in continuous production since the early 1950s. And so if you buy one from 1955 that the owner can prove was purchased from …in 1955, there’s no fundamental difference in value between that one from ’55 and the one you acquired in 2005. So you’re not purchasing for value. You’re purchasing for the iconography and for the very reason that these pieces have remained in production for so long – because they’re successful; because they’re comfortable; because they’re elegant; because they’re minimalist; because they fit your lifestyle. At the same time if you wanna be more adventuresome . . . I mean by all means I do feel that the way to go about collecting contemporary design is to first go to your local museum shop. I truly believe that . . . You know everyone has written about museum gift shops and how it’s such a valuable aspect of museums’, you know, cash flow. And I think some of the best design pieces can be found in museums that their own design collections aren’t even that prominently featured. I was just in Houston recently at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. I’ve been in Milwaukee recently. And all of these little shops have some of the most exquisite pieces. Because frequently the curators of that museum . . . The curator of 20th-century-design is asked to help select the merchandise for the shop. It’s an old museum tradition that goes back to when, in the 1940s, works that were on view in the Organic Designs competition at MOMA, after the competition was over and Saarinen took first place, the pieces went over to Bloomingdale’s where they were placed in the window and sold right out of the window. So there always has been a link between museums and commerce; and between purchasing new design that have been exhibited in museums. So I recommend that. I really think that’s the way to go. Otherwise it’s you know . . . I think the best web site is probably DesignAddict.com in terms of a fundamental listing of the . . . of every designer that’s alive today. Here are their web sites. Here’s how you find out about them. Here are their capsule bios. You know it’s run by a couple in Brussels who have been doing this for 15 years with no profit motive in sight mind you. They’re just doing this for fun, and it’s a site that I go to again and again.
Recorded on: 1/30/08