Thursday, July 02, 2009
He Has It Whipped
There are few Gen' X or younger art students anywhere who don't owe some small measure of their education or inspiration to books published by Benedikt Taschen. From low-priced but good-looking paperback reference works on 20th century artists , art movements, architects and designers and obscure anthologies of European and American fetish photography, Danish gay porn' and fashion to monstrously sized – and priced – limited edition catalogues raisonnés of Benedikt's favorite artists and photographers, among them the late Helmut Newton, Peter Beard and Jeff Koons, Taschen's back-lists offer everything in the way of references or resources an enquiring creative mind might ever need.Taschen, the imprint, started in a ratty comic-book store Benedikt ran in Cologne, Germany, in 1980. He began publishing original, somewhat raunchy comics but quickly cottoned onto the idea of designing picture books on artists who had been dead long enough for their rights to be in the public domain. He also figured out that what he lost in sales on so-called 'quality' subjects he could make up with risqué collections of pre-war porn' positioned as art. Today, Taschen is a billion-dollar operation, one of the largest and most successful privately held publishing companies in the world. It's still committed to unusual books on art, design, photography, travel and popular culture – and, yes, sex, albeit much better packaged than before. I've been a fan of Benedikt, now 48-years-old – and his partner-in-crime and ex-wife, Angelika – ever since I came across a portrait of them (above) in the now-defunct British bible of '80s style and pop culture, The Face when I was just a teenager. Photographed by David Lachapelle in the Taschen's flying-saucer-like John Lautner-designed house overlooking Sunset Boulevard (it featured in Brian De Palma's psychological thriller, Body Double, in 1984): Benedikt was on all fours, with the arse torn out of his business suit; Angelika stood nearby, masked but completely naked, a whip ready to flay his bared buttocks. Twenty years on, I still can't imagine another billionaire publisher – certainly not Rupert Murdoch, Si Newhouse, nor Jann Wenner – being reckless enough to pose that way, just as I can't imagine another publisher who'd be reckless enough to produce a boxed, four-colour hardcover and DVD set on the career of porn star, Vanessa Del Rio, or a 738-page limited edition history of the couturier Valentino. As Helmut Newton once observed, "There are very few like him. Or there are none like him. He is also, I might add, a madman." Maybe but it's good to know that in this increasingly hide-bound, unremarkable world, there are still some who subscribe to Oscar Wilde's dictum: "Nothing succeeds like excess."