A passion for H’wood coffee-table books

BevHills boutiques hawking rare first editions, vintage movie posters and costly antique baubles are basking in the gift-giving frenzy that descends on Hollywood every holiday season.

There’s a new entrepreneur in Hollywood who intends to make a killing this year: art-book publisher Benedikt Taschen.

Hoping to defy a sharp downturn in the illustrated book market, Taschen has embraced Hollywood, moving the U.S. headquarters of his Germany-based publishing company from Gotham to the landmark, cruise liner-shaped Crossroads of the World building on Sunset Boulevard.

Taschen is expanding his already ambitious line of high-end film books, and hopes to revolutionize the ways in which Hollywood coffee-table books are packaged and sold, focusing on a new series of extremely expensive gift books that function equally as reading matter and fanciful decorative objects.

“Everybody says film books are not selling,” Taschen said last week in his sun-splashed Hollywood office. “They are always either text and very serious or very cheap and not glamorous. We need to catch the aura of Hollywood.

“A book is very cinematic,” he added. “In a great book, you tell a great story. If you don’t tell a great story, it’s fucked.”

IN MANY WAYS, Taschen is the quintessential Hollywood publisher.

In the late 1980s, he thumbed his nose at the New York art-book establishment by flooding the market with cheap artist monographs for the masses in multiple languages. It was a prescient strategy. These days, chain bookstores that once stocked piles of $65 art books are focusing on cheaper, mass-market art books.

Rizzoli recently sold its entire 3,500-copy stock of a $275 photo book on New York. But publisher Charles Miers said there are fewer outlets for his books. The company has suffered in a rocky economy, closing most Rizzoli retail outlets in the U.S.

Upstart Koenemann books recently went bankrupt, which means the market could soon be flooded with millions of remaindered Koenemann books — a phenomenon one publisher calls “a book publishing time bomb.”

Taschen still publishes inexpensive monographs. But he is also mounting huge productions, like “SUMO,” a 60-pound, $2,500 Helmut Newton catalog, and the forthcoming “GOAT: The Greatest of All Time,” a $3,000 limited-edition book on Muhammad Ali; each copy will be signed by Ali and accompanied by an as-yet-unspecified art object by Jeff Koons.

On Taschen’s list, encyclopedias of hard-core fetish wear sit side-by-side with books on mid-century L.A. architecture and 18th century natural history.


“There are no boring board meetings here, with 10 demographic assholes talking about what a consumer wants and doesn’t want, in which every good idea is killed,” he said.

Taschen is keenly aware of the power of using bold imagery to raise his company’s profile. His strapping, blond wife and business partner, Angelika, has appeared nude in publicity photos. A Passion for Taschen is the company logo.

Taschen’s latest Hollywood production is “Marilyn,” an archive of photographs by Andre de Dienes, who romanced Norma Jeane Baker in the 1940s and produced some of the earliest images of the Hollywood icon. Retailing at $200, the book comes in three volumes: a hardcover book of photographs, a paperback copy of the photographer’s diaries and a brochure of magazine covers.

Taschen, who will open a retail emporium in BevHills in March, has ambitious plans to publish Hollywood books of varying sizes and prices, including a smaller-format series dedicated to directors like Fellini, Hitchcock and Almodovar.

Also forthcoming is a study of Stanley Kubrick; like “Marilyn,” it will contain multiple volumes, including a comprehensive account of his movies, and an archive of material on “Napoleon,” which Taschen called “the greatest movie he never made.”

Taschen plans to produce a four-volume set on the history of Hollywood and said he’s in talks with film execs to publish books on the history of various studios.

He denied the rumor that he has plans to become a film producer, but he didn’t entirely rule it out.

“In five or 10 years, I’ll probably do something else,” he said. “Maybe it’s a good idea to start producing movies, because I have no idea how it works.”

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