Who are the most sought-after 20th-century designers?
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: There are really now . . . I would say we have developed over the past five or six years a new canon of modernist and post-war designers whose biggest prices . . . And by big prices I mean $100,000 to about $1.5 million. The $100,000 to $1 million dollar range, we have a whole new stable of post-war and contemporary designers who line up and achieve the same monster records as, you know . . . same major prices as the earliest kind of blue chip designers of the early era. Off the top of my head, there is a group of French architects from the post-war era – Jean Prouve, Charlotte Perriand, to some extent … who are achieving huge, huge prices at the moment. Anything that is truly organic, there is a trend from the 1930s right through to today in terms of the designers who’ve achieved this kind of organic splendor tend to be the designers who have the highest prices. That’s…Noguchi, the great hybrid artist designer. Probably most famously over the last year or two, George Nakashima the great American woodworker who was based in New Hope, Pennsylvania from the late ‘50s until his death in 1990. He might be the most popular designer in the world today in terms of the expansion of his market; the . . . He enjoys the greatest worldwide audience with collectors in France, England, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Korea, Brazil to go along with his huge following here in America. And then among contemporary designers today, the stars without question when it comes to pricing are . . . It’s Mark … followed by Ron … And everybody else is quite a bit further behind.
Recorded on: 1/30/08
Zemaitis reviews the big-ticket designers of the past century.
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