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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: August 11, 2007


THE WORLD’S BEST-KNOWN SEX star, Vanessa del Rio, proudly possesses the world’s most famous mouth, according to her friend Dian Hansen, “(It is) cut wide and deep to accommodate her legendary appetite for all things oral. And I mean all: what comes out is just as astonishing as what goes in.”

As if to confirm this, the self-proclaimed ”slutty” sex star herself declares rhetorically: “Why does everyone deny being a slut? Why is it acceptable for a woman to have sex for money and not acceptable to do it because she loves it, or for money and because she loves it? I will never deny I love sex. Are they going to crucify me when they read this book because I’m proud to be a slut? We have to make people understand how society has all this backwards!’

The just-published book to which she refers, is Taschen’s $400 pictorial biography of the former porn star, who calls herself “the biggest friggin’ feminist there is! I believe in the freedom to do whatever the fuck you want, especially sexually.” Assisted by eight men when making The Devil in Miss Jones 3, she was subsequently awarded the title for Best Group Grope of 1986.

Dian Hanson, whose books have included a six-volume history of men’s magazines and The Big Book of Breasts, describes Vanessa as “profoundly female (but) not girlish…. She can even laugh about growing up lonely and the chances of a slut aging gracefully, because at 54 she’s alive and thriving.”

To which, Vanessa adds: “If you’re going to live out your life as the archetypical slut/whore — such lovely words — then you just go with it. Besides, most men are terrified of such a woman so I suppose I was in control.”

Anyone unfamiliar with the oeuvre of the international publishing company Taschen, which prices its books in dollars, pounds, euros, and yen, might prematurely adjudge it to be a sex publisher. And, it’s true that its books include The New Erotic Photography (the libidinous work of 82 kinky shutterbugs) and the “dozens of fun-loving exhibitionists” who shamelessly display their beavers and asses for girlie photographer Richard Kern. But photography of all kinds is Taschen’s central core and fabulous photographs are what embellishes its amazing catalog which feature most of the hundreds of books they have published since 1980.

Glamorous city travel guides, pop culture summaries through different decades, examinations of countries and continents (Inside Asia… Africa… Japan… Mexico… Bali), fashion and design icons, American advertising, the Polynesian Tiki craze, the history of movies and its stars — all are documented with incomparable style and flair. And what we’re describing is this free, bi-annual and very pictorial catalog, which on its own towers head and shoulders above most monthly magazines.

The subject of movies sustains a considerable backlist of titles from a study of “France’s most important filmmaker,” Jean Renoir through eight volumes discussing films from the 1920s to the 1990s and single titles about such movie icons as Bergman, Bogart, the Hepburns, Eastwood, and McQueen.

But it is in the categories of architecture and art where Taschen reigns supreme. Nominating Tadao Ando as the world’s greatest living architect they quote one critic as saying he is the man “responsible for making concrete sexy again.” That book was already on the backlist, however.

What is new is the 536-page volume ($125) about the fashionable Santiago Calatrava, currently at work on the new transportation hub for Manhattan’s Ground Zero site as well as what will be the country’s tallest building, the 160-story Chicago Spire Tower. Calatrava admits to being initially influenced by Le Corbusier and then studying civil engineering — learning to draw and think like an engineer. “I was fascinated by the concept of gravity and resolute in feeling that it was necessary to work with simple forms. With the proper combination of force and mass, you can create emotion.”

Taschen has almost 100 books, in a score of languages, about artists from the classic Raphael, Rousseau, Titan, Bruegel, and Bosch to Picasso, Klein, Duchamp, and Warhol.Diego Rivera was no passive spectator of the times in which he lived,” says the introduction to Rivera; The Complete Murals. The theory of muralism was that revolutionary art should help awaken the people’s political awareness and incite them to action.” The catalog devotes eight picture-filled pages to the book ($200) which details the saga of the artist who “gave a new dimension to the history of Mexico.”

The lead piece in the current catalog is by Interview honcho Ingrid Sischy, one of the editors of the hulking monograph containing the entire works of Jeff Koons, described as “the post-Pop superstar.” To describe Koons as controversial is an understatement (the book, however, sells for $1,000), his reputation in some art circles being of a man who solicits backers to hire flocks of assistants turning out works of utter banality. Many may also remember the artist’s short-lived marriage to an Italian porn star, the insipid “artworks” the pair produced together, and the tabloid headlines which accompanied the divorce. Koons himself observes: “I think we live in a great time. It’s about gesture; the medium is not the message, the message is in the gesture.” Whatever that means.

The order form in Taschen’s dazzling inventory has a space marked I would like to order all new Taschen titles. That would cost, let’s see, about $3,400. Surely worth it to anybody with the spare cash and enough coffee tables.

John Wilcock is currently visiting Mexico.