By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Knowing what he likes and dislikes — and not caring what anyone else thinks — is a Taschen strength, according to Heimann. "You'll probably read him initially as being a typical German, but he's fun, he's smart, he's really an interesting guy. He just breaks every mold that's out there. And I think that's one of the keys to his success — he doesn't follow any rules."
A typical German? As Taschen strides into his office with a confident, shoulder-rolling gait, I imagine a young Erich von Stroheim who has exchanged his monocle for a cell phone and dressed himself in a light-gray checked summer suit, a pink shirt, and brown suede shoes worn without socks. Taschen's voice is deep and reverberates around the rooms, still mostly empty but for some vintage Paul Evans tables and high-backed, burnt-orange chairs that look as if they were designed for a caveman with pretensions to a swinging-'60s lifestyle. Taschen refers to them as "Flintstone Neanderthal." "The base is wood, but with a kind of plastic overlay," he explains in his crisp, if occasionally wayward, accented English. "It's really unique, absolutely special. I really like it!"
Taschen leads me over to a cinema-screen Apple computer to show me the book he's working on. The working title is G.O.A.T. — Greatest of All Time. Photos of Muhammad Ali are spread over the worktable. Andy, a designer from Cologne, brings up some of the pages on the computer, and Taschen himself turns on the music. Yes, this is a book that will come with a soundtrack. "Ali, Ali, Ali . . .," black female voices warble, singing about rope-a-dope and the Ali shuffle. It sounds pretty good. I ask for the band's name, but Taschen says it's a secret. Then he asks, "This is cool music, right?"
G.O.A.T.(Taschen is aware of the word's negative connotation in sports, but doesn't care) will feature more than 2,000 illustrations, and texts from 100 writers. The limited-edition 700-page volume will cost a cool $3,000, and is clearly intended to be the book on the Louisville Lip, another high-priced extravaganza to be purchased by the kind of people whose living rooms are featured in Taschen books like London Styleor California Interiors. It will feature not only photographs of Ali with the likes of Malcolm X, but also — if Taschen can track them down — photographs of Ali takenby Malcolm X. Going the extra mile is what makes Taschen Taschen. To further immerse himself in boxing culture, as well as to stay in shape, he has recently started training at the Wild Card boxing gym.
"How much will the book cost?" I ask.
"$3.99," he quips.
There's a logic behind the joke. SUMOmay have been the most expensive book of the 20th century, but Taschen made his reputation by selling books that were as good as or better than the competition's at radically low prices. Even today, he sells books for $30 or $40 that would go for twice as much at most publishers. As a result, venerable houses such as Rizzoli, Abbeville, Abrams, Phaidon and others have struggled to keep up. Some have even been forced to cut staffs and lower costs by printing on cheaper paper just as Taschen has started to dominate the high-end market they used to own. Last month, he published a lavish, limited-edition book on Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, who, with his passion for nudes and flowers, is a kind of heterosexual version of Robert Mapplethorpe, for a cool $1,250. (A boxed display copy is available for viewing at Book Soup, and is well worth a look.) And this week, Taschen offers Marilyn, a $200 set of recently discovered photos of the young Norma Jean taken by André de Dienes, a French photographer who became the future star's lover.
"This is what could easily be the most beautiful book on Marilyn Monroe ever published," Taschen says, opening up the giant Kodak film box — an enlarged facsimile of the one Dienes used — that serves as the book's case. (As well as the book, the $200 also buys you a 608-page paperback reproduction of Dienes' typewritten memoir, spelling mistakes and all, of a cross-country road trip he took with Marilyn, and a 24-page brochure of all the magazine covers he shot of her.)
"Dienes never wanted to cash into this Marilyn Monroe thing," Taschen says, riffling through photographs of Marilyn on the beach, in the snow, leaning against a car. But when he got older — he died in '85 — there was a book published in France with the title Marilyn Mon Amour, which used some of these black-and-white photos and some pages in the diary, but it was done really cheap. It had no magic. Which is a good example of how you can create out of exactly the same ingredients a completely different product.
"What has to happen with books is that people see them and instantly like them," he continues, warming to his theme. "And that they bring not only some pleasure to their life, but also more understanding about the world. They have to open doors on subjects which people probably never have heard of. I'm not talking about Monroe necessarily, though maybe people don't know how her life started. Or if we do a book about tiki, for instance, it's a kind of urban-archaeology work. The same with Richard Neutra or many other photographers and artists and so on. What it is about is not just the mainstream, which is defined by the style makers of the world, but the fact that the world is rich and there are so many other things which are equally important."