By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
For a man who only recently was still a young hell-raiser, Taschen has demonstrated a touching solicitude for his elders. In L.A. alone, the late film director Billy Wilder, architectural photographer Julius Shulman and jazz chronicler William Claxton have all seen lovingly detailed books published about them by Taschen. There have also been books about modernist architects Richard Neutra, R.M. Schindler, and all the architects behind the Case Study Houses, whose work Taschen has enshrined in a definitive boxed volume. To a city that tends to shed its past without a glance in the rear-view mirror, Taschen has brought a European veneration for history as well as a genuine excitement about L.A.'s present and future.
"I think it's nice that he's here rather than in New York," says artist Mike Kelley, who has worked with Taschen. "He's interested in a lot of traditional L.A. things, like the Billy Wilder book, and as you know, Hollywood doesn't care very much or support its own history. It's great he digs up these '50s masters like Elmer Batters, or this wrestling book by Theo Ehret. That guy was the house photographer at the Olympic Auditorium. I don't see anyone else doing a book on that, or on Julius Shulman. L.A. is lucky he's interested in such things."
"I always loved Los Angeles," Taschen explains. "When I was a child, I read all these novels from California — John Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler, Charles Bukowski — and in my visual imagination I have all these Hollywood movies. When I came here, every side street looked familiar to me. I felt comfortable, and the same for my wife."
There are further reasons for the move. One is a Taschen bookstore, designed by Philippe Starck, that will open in Beverly Hills next year. Another is Taschen's growing interest in making books about movies, which he feels have been badly served by publishers in the past. Some Like It Hot, his $150 valentine to Billy Wilder's 1959 comedy classic, earned rave reviews, and in the future he hopes to produce about 10 movie books a year.
As for the Big Apple, Taschen found it enervating. "I certainly like how it is, but it makes me sick. Not only because of the weather, but because it's too noisy, every half a minute another fire engine or police siren. It's not for me."
"I met a woman last night at the sauna," I tell Taschen, who, with his jacket off, is seated in one of his Paul Evans chairs, munching on a muffin and drinking an iced coffee from Starbucks. "A Russian woman, a photographer. I told her I was meeting you, and she asked me to thank you personally for the fact that she was able to buy so many of your books when she couldn't afford to buy those of other publishers."
"At the sauna," he says, arching his eyebrows. "How interesting!" And then, looking pleased, "That's gut!" A reminiscence has been triggered. He tells me how awkward he felt, as a teenager in Cologne, having to buy books on art in specialty stores. You had to stand there "like a dummy," he says, waiting for the manager to take down a book from an enclosed glass case so that you could have a look at it. There was nowhere else to buy books on art at the time, and they were prohibitively expensive. Early on, Taschen decided to change that.
"What we always wanted to do was to make the books accessible and available and affordable for everyone who was interested." He takes a couple of Taschen books in the "Basic Art Series" from a pile on the floor and shows me with evident pride how well-made, for $8, are these popular monographs on artists such as Frida Kahlo and Roy Lichtenstein. "As you saw from this Russian woman, I think that these kinds of books can certainly change the lives of many people. Because they can see that there is more around than you can see in the TV, the newspaper, and so on. And I'm really positive that has a strong influence, at least on the lives of somepeople. I'm sure that one reason that we are very successful with the more high-priced books is that many of these readers grew up with the program. Probably they started five or 15 years ago with a $6 Renoir book, a Bosch or Duchamp. And now they buy maybe a $150 book on Case Study houses, ja?"
Despite his youthful image, Taschen looks older than his 41 years. His thinning hair is cropped close to his skull, and when he laughs, revealing charmingly uneven, ivory-colored teeth, his receding chin disappears into his neck. But his eyes — large, slightly bulbous and delicately shaped — hold your attention. Without being flashy, he smells of money, authority — and cologne.
"He comes across as a very businesslike businessman," says Kelley. "Expensive suit, a kind of standoffish demeanor. I know him personally and we get on, but he's a very hard businessman. You have to watch and make sure that everything in a contract is stated the way you want it to be stated. He likes to make it look like he has this crazy social life, but I don't know how true that is, because if it was he couldn't get so much done. It's not like you go up to that house and there's a rip-roaring Hollywood party all the time."
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