James Zemaitis
Senior Vice President & Head of 20th Century Design, Sotheby's
01:40

What makes a great collection?

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A great collection is not always about value?

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 still feel that a great collection is not based necessarily on value. If I was putting together an American industrial design collection, which I’ve kind of dabbled with over the years, it’s absolutely possible to put in artifacts – whether it’s a meat slicer by ___________; or an outboard motor; or a cocktail shaker that you can acquire on E-bay; you can acquire at the low budget kind of swap meat shows like the Triple Pier Show here in Manhattan; you can only spend a few hundred dollars for some of these things, but it’s how selective you are. I think there’s two forms of collection. There’s collections that take a curatorial eye, and really just focus on a certain theme and develop that theme, and every piece juxtaposes with each other. And then there’s the great obsessives – the people that have to have everything by that designer. And maybe those collectors – the best of that group are the ones that, as years go by, are not afraid to refine that collection and sell off certain stuff that isn’t quite holding the test of time. So I identify with both the obsessive compulsive collecting community and the minimalist, “I wanna imitate Vitra and create a perfect chair” collection community.

Recorded on: 1/30/07


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