Taschen: It’s art, it’s fun and it’s never by the book

Taschen, the high-end art book publisher, turns 40 this year, and they’re marking the anniversary with new compact editions of their greatest hits.

This is a publishing house that has brought out sumptuous coffee-table books on subjects ranging from sexual quirks in America to the Queen of England, Star Wars, the Rolling Stones and boxer Mohammed Ali. Some of their releases cost $10 (Rs 743), some retail for $15,000 (Rs 11.2 lakh) and fetch crores more at auction.

They’re collectors’ items and have been ahead of the curve on areas ranging from gay art to menu design. Some editions come draped in designer scarves, some with accompanying sculpture, still others are so massive they get shipped with their own book stands

With over 600 titles in their collection, “we never start with a huge print run,” founder Benedikt Taschen told The Guardian in a 2001 interview. “We reprint. If you don’t reprint a book, it is not a success, but neither is it a big failure, so you don’t have a problem.”

Taschen was founded in 1980 in Cologne, Germany, as a comic book store, when Benedikt was just 18. The store traded in rare works and transitioned, in 1984, to publishing.

Its first major release was a collection of photographer Annie Leibovitz’s portraits. There are now 13 Taschen stores around the world, including in London, Madrid, New York, Paris Berlin, Hong Kong and Tokyo. Here’s a look at some of their most pathbreaking releases.

Helmut Newton (1999)

The Sumo edition of this book weighs 34 kg and comes with its own designer stand. In 2000, a first edition copy of this book on the work of fashion and celebrity photographer Helmut Newton sold for $304,000 (Rs 2.26 crore) at auction in Berlin, setting the world record for the most expensive book published in the 20th century. A 20th anniversary edition released last year is available for $150 (Rs 11,159).

GOAT: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali (2003)

“It feels like a movie as you’re opening the first ten pages,” Taschen director Creed Poulson told Forbes in 2016. This collector’s edition tribute to the boxing legend took four years to make, contains 3,000 photographs and costs upwards of $6,000 (Rs 4.46 lakh). Ali has signed each of the 18,000 copies printed.

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Her Majesty: A Photographic History 1926–Today (2020)

This XL book on Queen Elizabeth II is Taschen’s current bestseller. The public and private life of the British monarch is captured via articles and photographs featuring weddings, coronation, meetings with the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe and John F Kennedy and also documents intimate, tender and humourous family moments.

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Ai Weiwei (2014)

The art edition of this book on the Chinese contemporary artist was accompanied by a marble sculpture and came wrapped in a silk scarf featuring a Weiwei work. It cost $25,000 (Rs 18.5 lakh) and all 100 copies still sold out. Various other editions of the book have also sold out through the years. A compact edition — minus a few pages, the sculpture and scarf — is now available as part of the anniversary series, for $25 (Rs 1,859), on the company website.

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America Swings: Photographs by Naomi Harris (2008)

This book features everyday Americans with adventurous sex lives. Expect to find features and photographs involving mate-swapping, whipped cream, fetishes and inflatable sex toys; also, schoolteachers, nurses and seniors. A limited edition signed by Harris costs $1,500 (Rs 1.11 lakh).

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