Jim Elkind, founder Lost City Arts—of one of the most influential design galleries in New York City—has design in his DNA. Elkind grew up in a modernist house full of mid-century modern furniture and spent many weekends traveling into New York with his mother, visiting museums and exploring the city. He fondly recalls her pointing up at the skyscrapers and their architectural details, encouraging and instilling in him a curiosity about his surroundings and an attention to detail that would go on to shape his future career.
The idea to open a gallery originally came to Elkind during a visit to the annual juried art show at University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he attended college. The vetted show featured several hundred artists, many of whom, he realized, were extremely talented but would never make it into the mainstream art world. Taking a page from his entrepreneur father’s book, Elkind imagined opening a gallery in New York called the Gallery of the Unknown Artist where he would feature work by up-and-coming artists from universities around the country.
By 1981, Elkind had begun doing business out of a townhouse basement in Greenwich Village but not as a purveyor of student artworks, rather in architectural salvage. His entry into the world of art and design fortuitously coincided with the passing of Local Law 10 in New York, which required inspections of the facades of any buildings six stories or more. Building owners had been slowly stripping carvings and other decorations for years, but the 1980 Local Law 10 ushered in a multi-year period in which buildings and architectural details were dismantled wholesale. Elkind handed out his card to building managers and demolition companies throughout the city and received a steady stream of calls. Success swiftly followed.
Elkind founded Lost City Arts in 1982 and by 1985 he had moved to Lafayette Street in Soho. The neighborhood featured a nucleus of design-minded galleries—Urban Archaeology, Secondhand Rose, and 280 Modern—and attracted an impressive array of clientele from celebrities and film directors to architects and designers. Meg Ryan, Brad Pitt, Joel Schumacher, Spike Lee, and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison have all, at one time or another, been clients of Lost City Arts.
“If there is a common ethos to the countless pieces bought and sold at Lost City Arts, it is that they have a human quality that makes them easy to live with and they are imbued with a little magic. People want beauty and comfort in their living spaces. We give them both.” – Jim Elkind
Over the years, as the interest in architectural salvage waned, Elkind reinvented his gallery, offering more fun and eclectic designs like Coca Cola signs and gas pumps, and eventually—as those clients matured and had families—coming full circle back to the modern design and art of his childhood years. His keen eye and appreciation for Danish works developed as a result of his many sojourns to and from his wife’s native country, and he became a passionate supporter and representative of Harry Bertoia’s work, which he describes in a single word: sublime.
Elkind’s connection to Bertoia began at a Sotheby’s auction in the mid-aughts, where he saw Sonambient sculptures on display. Enamored by their combination of form, motion, and sound, he called Harry’s son, Val, and visited him in Bally, PA. He bought several of Harry’s works during the visit and, feeling strongly that the artist was both underappreciated and undervalued, began the journey of collecting Bertoia and building a market for his work. Elkind’s championing of Harry Bertoia played a major part in the exponential growth in interest surrounding the artist, and Elkind is now considered to be one of the leading authorities on his oeuvre.
More recently, Lost City Arts continued its decades-long success with a move to the New York Design Center at Lexington Avenue where their neighbors include everyone from important design manufacturers to vintage and period dealers. Recognizing the changing market for art and antiques, the gallery positioned itself as a global one-stop shop, and Elkind’s almost preternatural ability to identify trends and changes in the art and design world made him a coveted resource for both trade and retail customers alike.
For more than four decades, Jim Elkind’s excitement for art and design and his passion for rediscovering and reviving interest in the arts and artists that may have been forgotten or overlooked have shepherded whole fields of collecting. From monumental sculpture to palm-sized jewelry and fine art to tabletop objects, Elkind’s ability to see beauty in many different forms is evident in everything that passes through his doors.