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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,[…]

You have to learn to say goodbye to pieces you love but that don’t make economic sense, Zemaitis says.

James Zemaitis:  You have to know when to say goodbye to pieces that you love but just don’t make economic sense. It’s the toughest thing for me to do because I think I fantasize myself as some sort of, you know, curator on a deadline every season. There are always the $2,000 to $3,000 experiments that do not make economic sense, and which I get wrapped on the knuckles you know . . . you know by fellow executives at Sotheby’s. Without a doubt the trend in the better 20th-century-design auctions is to focus on the higher and higher value. It’s what makes economic sense. And without a doubt I spend much more of my time focusing on the few pieces that are worth in the six figures than I can with collections of objects that are worth a few thousand dollars apiece. So the most difficult thing is to say goodbye to a piece that you know that if you really treated it with . . . with a kind of reverence, you could, you know, introduce to a new group of collectors; but that it’s just not ready yet for prime time. And then you hate it if that piece ends up at a smaller auction house, and maybe it doesn’t get photographed very well. Or maybe it ends up on E-bay. You know but you have to know when to say when.

Recorded on: 1/30/08