Books of beautiful things (and not so much)

Anna Filippova, September 30, 2014

There is one book published by Taschen sold every three seconds. This striking statistics, however, could be made up in the same publishing house. Benedikt Taschen, the founder of the publishing house with the same name, is well-known for his love of odious behavior and incredible rumors. Anyway, he turned his passion into a book empire, and made coffee table books accessible to those who aren’t used to spending more than 10 dollars on books.


It all started with his keenness on comics when Benedikt was a child. In contrast to other children, the boy’s hobby soon turned into business. At the age of 12 Benedikt founded the comics delivery service, and he opened his own shop when he was 18. Tashen still collects comics together with expensive objects of art, which he got interested in much later. Benedikt has built a building for his collection not far from his apartment in Koln.


It was obvious that Taschen Junior would soon become a tycoon. But he decided to deal with books, not factories. Four thousand copies of the book about Rene Magritte were to become his first investment. He soon sold the edition and decided to publish the next one by himself, mostly because of economical reasons.


Newly appeared Taschen publishing house has shortly found its niche, which is making books on art at a low price. The books were affordable to a most general audience. By late 80s the collection editions were sold at a reasonable price in Germany and other European countries. The books on art, architecture, photography, design, illustration and fashion are the most part of Taschen’s circulation. But the publishing house and its founder have achieved its reputation because of the cultural books on sensuality and pornography.


On the one hand, Taschen has invented the market of popular books on architecture and interior design, on the other hand, it publishes the most provocative visual material in the industry. The employees call it “Black market”. In 2000, for example, they published collected anonymous photos of car crashes “Car Crashes & Other Sad Stories” and a digest of best interiors in California. Not all the books sell like hot pies, of course, and the policy of the publishing house is to present colleagues and partners with what wasn’t sold out. Moreover, Taschen publishes a large number of copies only in case of successful sales of the edition.


Benedikt is also proud of the fact that he hasn’t published a cookery book for all these years. “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking”, which was published by Taschen, can be called a cookery book with great reserve, and it is definitely not the one to be kept in the kitchen.


“Larger, brighter, cheaper” is another principle of the company. What is more, it is always ready to deal with small bookshops in the middle of nowhere.


Most attention is paid to illustration and layouts as Taschen doesn’t consider texts to be of great importance. However, readers also have no reasons to get disappointed. For instance, there is an essay of French poststructuralist Rolan Bart added to the photos in  “Exquisite Mayhem: The Spectacular and Erotic World of Wrestling” book. And a recent two-volume edition on 100 illustrators has Stephen Heller’s (a major critic and historian of illustration) articles in it.


In late 90s Benedikt Taschen became famous worldwide. He was known as a publisher of the largest book in the 20th century (a monograph of Helmut Newton), which is bigger than the Vatican Bible. And Newton himself in his interviews called Taschen a mad man and a rara avis of publishing business. Despite its extravagant price, the edition was sold out in a moment.


В частной жизни Ташен тоже склонен к эпатажу. Покупая летний дом в Лос-Анджелесе, он остановил свой выбор на архитектурном антиквариате работы Джона Лаутнера — доме Chemosphere постройки 1960 года. Выходя по утрам из своего восьмиугольного жилища на Малхолланд драйв, Ташен, наверно, мнит себя Великим Гетсби — не меньше.