The Passions of Taschen

Photo: Emily Shur

Let me ask you,” says Benedikt Taschen. “Is Friday a problem to have a party? For the Jews in New York, I mean. I don’t want to make anything offending.” We’re speaking of the art-book publisher’s long-delayed Soho store’s opening, which was designed by Philippe Starck and features psychedelic murals by the Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes. With its floating pillows coming out of the floor in the yet-to-be unveiled basement, which will serve as a party-gallery-event space, it’s a bookstore for people who don’t, strictly speaking, have to be able to read. They can look, and savor the object itself—which is what Taschen is known for. And he hasn’t shied away from offending, either, publishing fetish books by Eric Kroll and Richard Kern, as well as the “Tom of Finland” series. He’s the Judith Regan of the arty set, making titillating, pretty books that show off the savvy taste of the sorts of people who would be art collectors if they could afford it. And now he has a store that’s a suitable environment for perusing them. “I always like shopping for books, and it makes me nervous in a large store without personal attention. You have to have an atmosphere where you feel well,” he says.

This isn’t the first store he’s opened. In 1980, at the age of 18, he opened Taschen Comics in his hometown of Cologne, Germany, having started a mail-order business selling used comics when he was 12. In 1984, he bought and sold some remaindered copies of a book on René Magritte, moving on to publish a book by Annie Leibovitz. He followed with a book on Salvador Dalí, featuring a picture of the artist with the tagline “A genius like me for only 6.99DM?” Taschen’s corporate tagline in 1994: “Luxury for less.” He helped redefine art books as a sort of mass luxury good. In 2001, his Paris store opened, and in 2003, he opened one in Los Angeles. He opened the Soho store in November 2005, closed New Year’s Eve, then took almost a year to reopen. “I don’t even know anymore why it took so long,” Taschen says.

Taschen’s like Regan in another way, too: He moved his operation from Manhattan to L.A. in 2002. “There aren’t too many publishers out here, more or less none. I read that Judith Regan is not anymore, the poor girl. When she started out here, she asked quite a few people from our company to join her, but no one did.” Why leave a winning team? “Art publishers now want to do sex books,” he says. “And it’s highly embarrassing. They’re just in it for the money.”

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The Passions of Taschen