In the Gallery with: Bene Taschen

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Established in Cologne in 2011, Galerie Bene Taschen has represented some of the world’s leading image-makers, including Larry Fink, David LaChapelle and Jamel Shabazz

“Art was always a part of my life,” says gallerist Bene Taschen, the son of world-renowned German book publisher Benedikt Taschen. “Growing up [in Cologne], I was surrounded by photographers and met great artists working with my father, like Helmut Newton. It was a blessing to have this as a part of my daily life. It was inspiring to be surrounded by art in any form.”

In 2011, an unexpected twist of fate provided Taschen with the opportunity to strike out on his own. He learned that a German exhibition planned for his friend, American photographer Gregory Bojorquez, had been cancelled. “That made me frustrated, so I decided to organise the exhibition myself,” says Taschen. “I didn’t have much gallery experience, but I had a passion for photography and a desire to create a good show that would excite and inspire people who saw it.”

Titled Streets of LA, the exhibition, which was first exhibited in Berlin in September 2011, then Cologne in November 2011, celebrated the people of Bojorquez’s hometown through the lens of an insider: a vantage point that Taschen finds profoundly compelling as a gallerist. “Curating is a very personal experience, and I’m always trying to create something that expresses how I feel and makes me happy,” he says. “The selection of images can tell a story of the artist and their work, but it has to look good together on the wall. I may choose works for different reasons but it has to be visually convincing when it is hung. You can’t just throw 35 photographs in the room and call it an exhibition.”

Larry Fink retrospective installation, 2011. © Galerie Bene Taschen, Cologne.

Although Taschen did not initially set out to establish his own gallery, he decided to move forward when he found a permanent space in Cologne in 2015. “Things developed at a natural pace. I don’t try to force things,” says Taschen, who employs the same approach when selecting photographers for the gallery’s roster: “It’s quite intuitive,” he says. It has included luminaries such as William Claxton, Larry Fink, David LaChapelle, Jeff Mermelstein, and Sebastião Salgado. And, a strong roster of photographers known for documenting street culture, such as Jamel Shabazz, Arlene Gottfried, Miron Zownir, and Joseph Rodriguez, who is currently exhibiting TAXI: Journey Through My Windows 1977–1987 at the gallery. 

“When I see someone’s work and I say, ‘Oh wow!’ – it’s almost like I am hypnotised by the artist’s work. They leave a lasting impression on me, and the more I think about it, the more determined I become like, “Okay I really must do this now’,” says Taschen. “It always gives me energy and excitement. I reach out to the artist to see if they are willing to collaborate, because at the very least, I need to try.”

© Larry Fink, courtesy of Galerie Bene Taschen.
© Jamal Shabazz, courtesy of Galerie Bene Taschen.

Raised by the brains behind one of the most well-known art book publishers, unsurprisingly, Taschen’s can-do attitude extends to publishing exhibition catalogues. “We started making books because we wanted to provide the public with a way to see the artists’ work in addition to the exhibition,” says Taschen, who has created catalogues for Jamel Shabazz and Miron Zownir. “With a book, you can take your time and form your own thoughts without having anyone tell you what to think about the work.”

With its tenth anniversary coming up this September, the gallery continues to develop at an organic pace; its second space opened just a few blocks away earlier this year. “Right now it is a showroom by appointment only, but we plan to expand so that we can do one big show in two spaces,” says Taschen.

For artists seeking representation, Taschen advises them to show carefully curated portfolios of their work, whether through contacting the gallery by email, or arranging an appointment in person. “It’s important to have someone that you trust to help you edit and sequence your work, so that when you share it, you are showing your strongest images,” he says. “It’s also important to make sure your work fits into the gallery roster and complements the work they represent while also covering new ground.” 

Joseph Rodriguez: TAXI: Journey Through My Windows 1977–1987 is on view through July 31, 2021 by appointment only.

Miss Rosen

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books by Arlene Gottfried, Allan Tannenbaum, and Harvey Stein, as well as magazines and websites including Time, Vogue, Aperture, Dazed, AnOther, and Vice, among others.