16 juillet 2021
Naomi Campbell, Bono, David Bailey… During the 8 years he has been selling phenomenal books exquisitely crafted by the luxurious German publishing house and managing the Taschen gallery in London, Nolan Browne has met quite a few notorious artists and celebrities. The Gallery Director reveals to S-quive what he has learned from the job and those fabulous encounters.
“Taschen and myself, it’s kind of an extraordinary match ! Taschen has allowed me to be who I want to be”
You’ve been working for Taschen for 8 years, what can you tell us about this experience so far ?
It’s been an extraordinary experience. The whole thing from the start was kind of magical. I used to work at the White Cube Gallery until I left. Then one day, as I was on Facebook, something came up on my wall: “Manager Chelsea Taschen store wanted”, so I went to the interview and got the job. We have about fourteen stores around the world and I took the store to number one. Extraordinary things happened: a guy walked in and bought the entire store once, I did some huge deals but also it was most importantly a perfect fit between myself and the brand. Taschen books are extraordinary. They almost sell themselves but they needed someone to come in and just be really passionate. I was invited to meet Benedikt Taschen in Cologne, where the headquarters are, and I was asked to present an idea over dinner and I said “I think we should be in Mayfair” and he goes “Okay”. I get a call six months later and we opened a store next to Claridge’s hotel where Benedikt Taschen stays. So four years in Chelsea and then I am now the Gallery Director of Taschen store Mayfair, our second store in London. It’s been incredible, sensational. I’ve been photographed by David Bailey, I’ve been in the press a little bit, I’ve had a letter from the Queen. As an editor once said to me, Taschen and myself, it’s kind of an extraordinary match ! It allows me to stay in the art world without being in the art world. There’s a real stigma around certain people working in retail and running stores. But I can proudly say that I’ve just kind of turned it upside down. You have to think quickly, to do the nitty gritty. Taschen has allowed me to be who I want to be.
“I lock the door, I turn the music down and I tell them 'I’m going to sell you something totally different you wouldn’t expect' and when I manage to, it’s incredible.”
What is it actually like to be Taschen’s Gallery Director ? What does your job allow you to do that others don’t ?
There is this real entrepreneurial spirit at Taschen. And although we are a corporate company, very iconic, very famous, what Taschen allows you to do as a person in retail is to express yourself which ties in with the titles we publish. We’ve always taken great pride in publishing what we want. The variety of what we publish attracts a variety of people. And at this job, it’s all about the people that you meet. I’ve hung out with Bruce Springsteen, with billionaires of the world, with the most interesting people of all levels and that is the beauty of Taschen. We have such a wide and incredible appeal that it’s almost like the theater everyday. Of course I have to sell and manage the gallery, making sure the stock is alright, etc, but it’s about selling and promoting our books and promoting the subjects, the artists we are publishing which is really important. I always love when clients come in, this is the thrill of my job, and go like “Hi I’d like a book on wine for a guy who’s got everything.” or “Do you have a book on this and that ?” and I go “No, no”. I lock the door, I turn the music down andI tell them “I’m going to sell you something totally different you wouldn’t expect” and when I manage to convince them and they leave with something unexpected, it’s incredible.
What led you to this position ? Have you always dreamt of becoming a gallery director ? Can you tell us about your journey ?
I grew up in New York where my mother had a small but very successful art fair and although I’ve had a formal education, she really encouraged me to love art and to go to museums. Being a Gallery Director felt like a natural fit. Before joining Taschen, when I worked at White Cube, I dreamed of working for a major contemporary art gallery. It wasn’t my dream but this type of position is a dream position.
“Kiddo, come to the studio tomorrow morning at eleven, I want to shoot your portrait”
You revealed your daily routine in an interview with GQ… Waking up at 4am ? Is that even possible ? If so, why and how ?
I now wake up at five every morning. But like most Britons in January after the crazy Christmas season, we all have this one month off of booze almost as a tradition. And I just gave up on booze for a month and my body clock completely changed. I was going to bed at 10 and waking up at 4. It is true and it is so bizarre. It had some small benefits.
“I sat on the stool where everyone sits on from Bob Dylan to the Queen. At that moment, I don’t meditate, I probably should, but all my stress lifted off me, not a single care in the world.”
You had a photoshoot with the world famous photographer David Bailey, how was it ? What kind of experience is it to be photographed on the same stool where Her Royal Highness once sat on ? How did this happen ?
You can see the portrait behind me on the wall strategically placed ! It was probably the best thing that has happened to me. Bailey is an icon worldwide but here in England he is still remarkably famous.We published this book called the David Bailey Sumo about two or three years ago. He would come to the stand when I exhibited it at art fairs and then the Taschen family would send me to his studio and I’d only be allowed on the doorsteps to drop something off. Over time, I was led into the studio and I was just full of beans. It’s an incredibly historic studio that Bailey’s had for forty years in Clerkenwell in London. David Bailey would come regularly to the store on weekends and his wife would message me and come join him. In retail, weekends are sacred, having a Saturday off is like finding a golden nugget. One Saturday, I had it off and I was actually in the gym on the other side of town. Bailey's wife sent me a text saying they were going to be at the gallery in fifteen minutes, “Are you there ?” so I said “No, I’m off but I will be there, don’t worry”. My whole day has changed. I dropped the weights, I got on my Boris Bike and I cycled like a maniac, way across town, through traffic and I got there just as he got there. I was as unsleek as possible. He appreciated it so much that I made such an effort to see him on my day off that I got a call from the studio the next day saying “Kiddo, come to the studio tomorrow morning at eleven, I want to shoot your portrait”. It was in December last year and as you know, December is very hectic in retail. You’re lying in bed at 4 in the morning wondering “Have I delivered this, have I done that ?”, my boss was on my case, etc. And I arrived at the studio and he has one stool where everyone sits on from Bob Dylan to the Queen. I was very nervous and I sat on the stool and it was like sitting in an egg. At that moment, I don’t meditate, I probably should, but all my stress lifted off me for 20 minutes, not a single care in the world. I almost cried that he’s actually done this. And I always made a point considering that I’m an opportunist, never to ask for him to do it, I didn’t want to push it considering he’s a good friend of Benedikt, but the fact that he asked me… Then I said to him “Is there any chance to have it ready by Christmas because I want to give it to my mum” and he goes “Oh, you’d be pushing it, mate, it’s going to take months”. Three days later, I got a call from the studio saying “Your prints are ready”. It was amazing. He made me look like Steve Jobs.
“With my Taschen job, now, I realize I love the glamour but I love the nitty gritty side of retail.”
What exactly is your relation with art ?
I react very well to art. If I go into a gallery, whatever the image is, I’ll always have an opinion about it. Nothing beats going to an exhibition and seeing incredible paintings. Standing in front of an extraordinary artwork is an amazing feeling. I love art, I collect it andI have an obsession with Guy Bourdin. I have the photograph of the woman in the red swimming suit on my wall. I love creativity. My one regret in life is thatI can’t draw or paint. I love being in a room full of incredible artworks, it’s so thrilling and it just gets me going. And I can sell it, I can sell it very well which must be coming from my mother actually. When she was bored of my sister and I, she would send us to the Met to wander around the museum for a few hours. My mother’s art fair was very successful and she would have us all licking envelopes and posting them out and helping around the show. It was in the Upper East Side, it was very glamorous. With my Taschen job, now, I realize I love the glamour but I love the nitty gritty side of retail. The other day, I was running around, looking for the recycle bin at the bottom of the hotel. Then I came back covered in crap, dusted myself off and Bono walked in ! And I’m like “Oh hey Bono, yeah hi !”. I love the two sides of it and that’s the thrill of the job.
“I was with Naomi Campbell for four hours, passing her books and then hit the bus home in the evening.”
What is your all time favorite Taschen book ?
I would have to go with the Helmut Newton Sumo.The story behind it: huge risk, working with a major photographer at the top of his game in the late nineties, Benedikt’s complete persistence and belief that although we weren’t the first publishers to make big books, we were the first to make a book of that particular size on a stainless steel Philippe Starck stand with a naked lady on the front. I just love what it represents for the company, creating the Sumo series took us to another level. But it’s also the balls that Benedikt had to have the idea. It represents persistence, class, style with timeless, classic Helmut Newton pictures. I went to a client’s house the other day and he had the Helmut Newton Sumo in his entrance in his penthouse in Mayfair and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up even when I was carrying another big book.
Who was the best celebrity to work with ?
I've hosted signings with Jane Birkin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Mick Rock, David LaChapelle, Jamie Hewlett, Gerard Mankowitz, , Anton Corbjin, Sebastião Salgado, the list is endless. The most spectacular was with Naomi Campbell. It was such a perfect evening. I just walked along to the Kings road, picked her up, (I was managing our Chelsea Store then) and I felt like a complete rockstar with Naomi Campbell and two bodyguards and everyone photographing us. I was with her for four hours, passing her books and it was a very special evening. My relationship with David Bailey is also very special.
Who would you like to work with in the future ?
I would love for us to publish a book on Guy Bourdin. I have been obsessed with his work since I was a kid, or early twenties. With Taschen, nothing surprises us anymore, it just gets cooler and cooler whoever you work with and we just leave that to Benedikt because we know that the next artist we’ll be working with, will be super cool and on trend.
Sports photographer for the NBA, Andrew Bernstein, told us he would love to have his work published in one of your books one day… Can his dream come true ? What does it take to become the subject of a Taschen book ?
Sadly it’s not down to me but I can point him in the right direction. It’s down to the editorial team. But I can ask if we have another sports book. Although we have Goat, the book about Mohammed Ali, which is extraordinary, I’ve always thought that a book with Michael Jordan, which would be a no-brainer especially considering the American market is our biggest market, would be amazing. But don’t get too excited. It’s all down to Benedikt and his passions.
“No one comes close to our quality. We don’t mind waiting for months to get it completely perfect.”
From Monet to Star Wars, is there a subject that cannot be covered by Taschen ?
Violence and things that are illegal, etc.. We wouldn’t touch the darkest sides of life. But we’re really open as well, that is what makes us so interesting. We published a book once which we had to put off the shelves based on a photographer who shot car crashes. That’s the only one that didn’t sell at all and that we had to put down, twenty years ago. We have our sex books as well which we are really proud of. Because of our liberal nature and our openness, we are very risk taking which is more inclusive. For the Murals of Tibet Sumo, Thomas Laird, a famous photographer and journalist for the Times magazine, basically managed to photograph most of the monasteries in Tibet in incredible detail. He emailed us via the website. No one knew who he was and it got sent to Benedikt who immediately loved his work. Thomas needed him to publish the biggest book possible and Benedikt agreed but in return he wanted him to get the Dalai Lama to sign all the copies. Which he did. And that was genius. Genius on Thomas to create this technique of photographing those murals, genius to have the balls to email us. And this is one of our most famous Sumos.
What does Taschen have that other luxury publishing houses don’t ? What makes Taschen so special ?
We started 41 years ago when Benedikt sold his comic books on the streets of Cologne. To go from that to developing the ingenuity and innovation that comes in each book such as the Ferrari edition, is just incredible. We treat every single book as family and it shows. No one comes close to our quality. We don’t mind waiting for months to get it completely perfect. This is what stands us apart out of many things. Instead of downloading the image from an image library, we rephotograph the paintings. For example, to have the perfect picture of Bosch’s work, we closed down a museum and we rephotographed the paintings in order to have only the best reproductions to put in our book. And I think that is incredible. We want to recreate the same feeling as the one you get when standing in front of an artwork in a gallery as best as we can. Quality, quality, quality. That is what we’re known for.
“And I just love that. The emotions art gives to people.”
Do you read every single published book without exception ?
Yes absolutely. I’d look at others more in depth of course. When we get four or five new titles, my assistant and I would go through them page by page because the way they’re all put together, the way they’re curated is thrilling because we have the best editors in the business. We published our book, Japan 1900, with colored in black and white films. Some of the pictures are so mesmerizing and so scenic that you just see Japan one hundred years ago in a completely different light. I’m not going to pretend I know every single book extremely well but I look at all of them. The more you know, the more you sell.
Having a Sumo Taschen book in one’s home is like having a piece of art, what exactly makes it so special ?
It is so unique. Ultimately, what makes it so special is the whole idea behind it. If you walk into a house and you see a coffee table, bookshelves, tv, nice furniture and then a book in the corner on a stand showing incredible pictures, you wouldn’t expect to see that and it is so beautifully made. It just lights up a room. When you open a Sumo it’s almost like a wave crashing. It looks spectacular and fabulous. I had a couple who came in recently from Yorkshire. They couldn’t afford a Hockney print as a Holiday present for them. I sold them the Hockney Sumo book and they told me“It’s like having a Hockney exhibition in our living room, we get to see a new Hockney picture every day. It lights up our day.”. And I just love that. The emotions art gives to people.
For this interview, sorry not sorry, we stalked your Instagram account where we stumbled upon a copy of Becoming especially signed for you by Michelle Obama… May we have more details about that ?
She was staying at Claridge’s hotel two years or so ago. A lot of stars use my gallery as it is connected to the ballroom so that they can leave discreetly. Claridge’s is all about discretion. But the place was teaming with bodyguards, Michelle Obama would give conferences about her book there and if the door were open I could almost touch her. She would pass in front of the store followed by twenty security guards. One day her assistant came in, I tried to convince her to get a picture of Michelle in front of the book Goat about Mohammed Ali, which her husband has, and she was like “Hey, just for discretion we can’t have Michelle come into the gallery but she would sign some books for you” and I had bought some books so she could sign them for me and some clients.