Who is design for?

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


I would say that if you’re Jasper Morrison, you are . . . and you’re Tom Dixon, you are truly thinking about how I can change the lives of every person; and how I can introduce something fun, and sharp, and sensible into a London flat; but how perhaps I can get something into a big box retailer and have it trickle down into the heartland. I truly think that there’s certain designers who think that way; who think that they would like to improve on the Post-it note; and they’d like to make it. And when MOMA included the Post-It note as part of the re-launch of their design galleries after the expansion of their space a couple of years ago, they famously put a Post-it note on display. I never went and saw it. It’s funny. But everybody just kept talking about it. “MOMA put a Post-it note up. What’s that worth?” I’m like, “Well what’s a Post-it cost you?” But the point is it’s about improving everyday life . . . lives. On the other hand I absolutely feel that many, many designers . . . I think they’re thinking in the same way that furniture craftsmen thought about. They want to create a beautiful piece. Maybe it’s bespoke. Maybe it’s for their client. And you know the wealthier the client, the better their piece, the more money they can make, you know? And that’s . . . So yeah. Hedge fund . . . That kind of hedge fund cliché in terms of these guys are adding stuff. That said, for all of the heat that my market has generated, and all the press that it has generated, I still feel that the value of what we’re selling is not growing exponentially the way contemporary art does. You know it is one thing to say, “Gosh, in 1996 this table was worth $10,000 and now it’s worth $150,000.” And that does happen in our market. But it’s still a huge difference than . . . from saying, “Gosh, I bought this work of art from Gagosian in 2002 for $150,000 and now it’s worth $2.5 million.”

Recorded on: 1/30/08