Which city has the best 20th-century design collection?

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 say without a shadow of a doubt it’s a tie between New York and Paris. New York has a long history of collecting 20th century design, because many of the great French designers of the 1920s and 1930s – Rillman, Frank, …– had clients here in New York. And there has . . . New Yorkers have always been Frankofilic. They do not look to Los Angeles to go and acquire work. They look to Paris. And they always look to Paris before they look to London when it comes to acquiring furniture. At the same time Paris isn’t just living off of its reputation. Paris has been at the forefront of the marketing of contemporary design. Many of today’s hybrid contemporary architects/designers – whether it’s someone like Marc …who maintains a resident in Paris, to the great modular architect …maintain residences in Paris. Their galleries are there. Their agents are there. So there are some cutting edge collections by such . . . kind of fashion luminaries in Paris like … who have maintained Parisian relevance in terms of the market.

Recorded on: 1/30/08