When does furniture become art?
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 a piece of furniture becomes a piece of art in two ways. One, when the market dictates it because of its value. Two, in the way that you display it. And thus, I continue to this day to be a huge fan of dinnerware and china produced by Russell Wright – you know one of our great, modern industrial designers who produced billions and billions of pieces of ceramic dinnerware for the masses during the Depression era. And I look at a simple butter dish that there was probably two million of this butter dish in this specific glaze produced by Wright and manufactured in Steubenville, Ohio in the ‘30s. And I look at that butter dish. I look at the water pitcher. I look at the casserole from this, and I can put that, you know, on a shelf by itself. And it’s just the curves, the lines; that just elegant feel to it, it’s art. It’s absolutely art. But it’s also dishwasher friendly.
Recorded on: 1/30/08
When the market says so.
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