Taschen's Peter Leong Talks Famed Publisher's Mainland Expansion

By Bryan Grogan, December 7, 2019

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Global art book publisher Taschen launched their Chinese mainland operations at 2019’s West Bund Art & Design fair in Shanghai. The launch comes with an ecommerce site, which will act as means for Taschen to explore the reaction its books. The launch also coincided with Taschen’s latest collaboration with David Hockney, a new picture book with drawings made by the artist using an iPhone and an iPad. We caught up with Taschen Asia’s General Manager Peter Leong, to talk a bit more about Taschen’s expansion into the Chinese mainland and what this will mean for the company’s Asian output.

Could you talk a bit more about Taschen and give us some background both on the company’s history and its relationship with China?
The company is headquartered in Cologne and Los Angeles and has regional offices in Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Madrid, Milan, New York and Paris. Taschen is co-managed by Benedikt Taschen and his eldest daughter, Marlene Taschen. We've had a regional office in Hong Kong since 2005 to focus working with our book distribution partners in the region. In June 2018, we opened a dedicated Taschen store in Hong Kong in 2018. It’s a shop with an objective to continue developing our presence and positioning in Asia. 

How long have you been planning to get into the mainland market, and why did now seem like the right time to launch?
Given the increasing interest in Taschen from Chinese buyers at other art fairs, our participation in the West Bund Art & Design in Shanghai is a natural progression and we are all very excited about being able to interact more with the local art communities here. When we opened the Hong Kong office in 2005, our global retail structure was not as developed as it is today. The combination of the both the store and the office has proved to be essential to exploring new collaborations and business opportunities. The timing now was simply right and things fell into place. 

Taschen at West Bund Art & Design. Image courtesy of Taschen

In the past, Taschen has been criticized for its ‘Basic Art’ series focusing too much on male artists while the series tends to revolve around European and Western artists. Should expansion to the Chinese mainland be seen as a sign that Taschen will be placing a larger focus on Asian and Asia based artists?
Absolutely. Although Taschen originated in Europe and many of our titles are therefore focused more on European art, we are developing a more global vision especially under the new leadership of Marlene Taschen. Hong Kong was our first store in Asia and we hope to have more of a dialogue with Asian artists with our presence here. Taschen, through our collaborations with artists and photographers, sees this as the perfect time and place to continue our work as cultural ambassadors with the growing interest in art both locally and regionally.

Can you talk about the scope of the Chinese mainland operations?  What do you have planned for the coming months and years in terms of specifically Chinese projects?
I think it’s a very exciting start for Taschen this year with our first participation at a China art fair, as well as the opening of our Taschen dedicated T-mall shop and WeChat. A physical store is definitely on our radar, though we would need further time to study.  

Taschen at West Bund Art & Design. Image courtesy of Taschen

While certainly this could be seen as an economic move, in terms of entering a generally perceived lucrative market, it can also be seen as a move closer to the Chinese art world.  How important are Chinese artists today?
The Chinese art market began to grow on an international scale over the last 10 years. There is an increased interest in contemporary Chinese art that is being reflected in museum and gallery programs. I was in Paris two weeks ago at the Musee D’Orsay, and there was an exhibition of a Chinese artist named Yan Pei-Ming. In this globalization of art, Chinese artists are finally getting the recognition they deserve, slowly but surely.

Being a brand that specializes in visual art and creativity, it makes sense that Taschen has built a reputation of being aesthetically very pleasing. Can you talk a bit about how you will leverage social media in expanding the brand in China?
Through our T-mall shop, we feel it is important for us to introduce the full extent of our program. This shop together with our WeChat would be invaluable in that both these channels allow for a direct dialogue with customers and with the local community. The insights shared permit us to adapt our way of doing things in any specific market, but also shape our company as a whole: we get new sources of inspiration for our editorial program and a fresh push to think bigger and broader.

To visit Taschen’s Taobao store, click here.  

[Cover image by Karim Tabar, courtesy of Taschen]

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