Taschen do something very clever. The book publishing house that proudly boasts it was established as long ago as 1980 and, as it says on the cover of its Winter 2011/2012 Booklist, ‘is for optimists only’, likes to surprise and even to shock. While many publishers have cut costs by putting their lists of forthcoming books exclusively on-line, Taschen’s, published biannually, which arrived here in the middle of this week – only 30 high street shopping days to go until Christmas! – takes the form of a well-produced magazine.
Whoever came up with the concept and put it together – probably Benedikt Taschen himself, who edits it – pays close attention to getting the details right. The cover is printed web-offset and the inside pages using the gravure method – only suitable for runs of over 300,000 copies due to the substantial costs involved (some of these having clearly been off-set by the inclusion of genuine, up-market advertising for the likes of Mercedes Benz, Chopard, Pirelli and Maybach) – giving it the familiar, floppy feel of news-based magazines like Stern, Paris Match, The (UK) Sunday Times Style section, The New York Times Magazine or even SAGA.
The cover shot is more than a little cheesy; it has a low-budget tang to it. It says this is a popular magazine; it’s inclusive, not exclusive; there’s something for everyone here. The cover type is overly colourful and looks like it might have been done in a rush to meet a tight deadline, however, the company name TASCHEN is subtly lacquered-over – perhaps to convey just a hint that what one is looking at is not all that it appears. Inside, looking for all the world like a list of features with page numbers, there’s – what could be more natural – a contents page. What could be a jauntily written editor’s intro, actually is just that and is signed off by Herr Taschen himself. The ‘features’ are mostly lavishly-illustrated using photographs or illustrations from the approximately 120 books individually listed at the back with prices. But there are what must be specially commissioned illustrations of the famous from Moby, Quincy Jones and Mario Testino to Rem Koolhaas, Pamela Anderson and Diane Keaton, each with a nice quote about their favourite Taschen book alongside them. These attempt to demonstrate the reach and ground this once best known for its cut-price art book publishing house has gained over the past twenty-five years. Taschen himself makes an appearance photographed, paparazzi-style, in a series of black and white images, most memorably in a full-bleed double-page spread with director Billy Wilder and photographer Helmut Newton at the 1960-built architectural landmark, Chemosphere house, in the Hollywood Hills in 1999. Newspaper USA Today’s quote about the Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot book – from Taschen, obviously – appears alongside: ‘A Wilder gift you couldn’t find for film fans.’ There’s a fashion ’story’ about photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin’s work – limited editions to 1,200 copies of the book are available, numbered and signed by the artists. This is up-market stuff but the way it’s packaged makes it feel democratic, accessible to the masses. Wine and food are covered; cars too. There’s sexy glamour from Bert Stern’s historic last sitting with Marilyn Monroe and a design ‘feature’ about information graphics. The Man from La Mancha, about a book on Pedro Almadóvar opens on a dramatic spread image with sparse headline, standfirst and quote, which is followed by a substantial text written by the director. There’s quite a lot of film-based stuff; Movies of the 2000 [sic] – the title of which must be a dodgy bit of translation from the presumably original German into English – opens with a complex double page spread of small film-stills and screaming headline, which, if this was in a real magazine, might be expected to lead somewhere, but doesn’t. There are a couple of spreads – please excuse the pun – about The Big Book of Pussy – the offending organ having been masked out by little, yellow smiley faces – immediately followed by a spread of illustrations of Toucans,’Big-billed technicolor marvels’, which at first glance might be taken for a special offer of the type one associates with sets of decorative plates, had the book cover not been slipped in at the bottom.
The tone and pace of the content is keenly balanced, some items picture-lead, others text-heavy, some short, some long, in such a way as to convince anyone casually flicking through the pages that he’s holding a real magazine. There’s no crossword or puzzle page but there is a game that encourages the reader to search for the character Faulpeltz – familiar, apparently, to past recipients of this publication – hidden within the pages of the magazine: the successful participants earning the chance of winning the Taschen sweepstake or book tokens. This is psychologically-clever salesmanship. First-timers are drawn in, made to feel comfortable in familiar territory – it’s the game that advertorial plays, when it apes the editorial of the magazine it appears in – until suddenly the penny drops and you feel rather let down, fooled. Make no mistake; this ‘magazine’ is 100% advertorial. But maybe in this particular case you can convince yourself to rest easy – this is a smartly-executed joke – you might have been fooled but now you get it and it’s so well done that you’re not ashamed at all that you were had. On the contrary, you begin to appreciate the level of intellectual thought and creative consideration that went into this fine thing. You want to tell all your friends about it: do a blog post on it – exactly what they want you to do. You might put it aside – you never know, one day it might be a collector’s item, and be worth something. Anyway, that’s what I’m going to do with mine.
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