Ralf Daab, a Creative Entrepreneur
Conversation with Gérard A. Goodrow
How did you get involved with art?
In 1993, I started working as a sales manager for TASCHEN, the largest art book publisher in the world today. Before that, I had my own fashion shop in Cologne and produced merchandise articles for the record label EMI. I remember well the time that we did T-shirts and jackets for the Tina Turner tour. At TASCHEN, I was responsible for sales in the United States and Canada, so I traveled back and forth for two years before I finally moved to New York in 1995.
I can imagine that it must have been very exciting for you, living in New York and working for an art book publisher.
Absolutely, it was fantastic. New York was my city, I just loved it there. I got lucky: Through Reiner Opoku, who was also working for TASCHEN at that time, I was able to sublet the East Village apartment of the artist Jiri Georg Dokoupil. I traveled all over the United States and Canada and sold art books.
Were you also involved in the actual making of the art books?
No, I was only in charge of selling them, but I met many people from the art world in the process: artists, gallerists, collectors... all very interesting people. And I visited many museums and galleries, mainly to sell the books – but I often had enough time to view the exhibitions.
When did you start thinking about founding your own publishing house?
In 1999, my son Lucas was born in New York. He’s a real New Yorker. But I eventually got tired of constantly traveling around the US. In 2000, we thus decided to move back to Cologne. I then worked for a while for teNeues, mostly known as a calendar publisher. They wanted to begin publish art books as well and hired me to build up a program and international sales. I always had ideas for books and had many contacts to people who could produce them. Within three years, I was able to build up a quite substantial book program and a worldwide sales network.
A good basis for your own enterprise...
Yes, exactly. I thought about the rather low salary for what I actually brought in for the company and decided it would be more interesting to do it on my own. I had all the partners ready to go with me. I wrote a business plan and created a first program with 24 titles, which were then produced by agencies. Within five years, daab became a well-known brand for architecture and design books worldwide. We were very successful, until the bank began to make trouble and things got difficult financially.
We both met the first time after you had relaunched the publishing house and began focusing more on art books with original content.
The time for design books with many pictures and almost no text was over: People can look at images like these more easily and inexpensively on the Internet. The worldwide book market was dying, at least for these kinds of books. Art has become more relevant for a lot more people, and I thought that people who love art would also buy high quality art books, as well as books about fashion.
Talking about fashion, you also created the Cologne Catwalk as a fashion show and later the Cologne Fashion Days as a trade fair where young designers could sell their collections directly to end consumers.
Ralf Daab: The first Cologne Catwalk was basically a promotional event for a new fashion book we published. People liked it, and so we did it several times and invited fashion designers from all over Europe. Then people ask where they can buy the clothes. So, the next logical step was to turn the show into a fair.
Makes sense – it’s also a good crossover to combine it with art. You also had the Daab Salon in Cologne as an exhibition space and event location.
The intention was to exhibit young artist who are also published in our books. Thanks to you as the curator, we did some really good exhibitions. But like many things, in the end you can only do that when you have sponsors or investors. People like events - I do as well – but they don’t necessarily buy something while they’re there.
You recently launched an online gallery with your own artwork. I know you for some years now and know that you are a very creative guy, so I wasn’t surprised. But I guess some people were…
As you said, I was always creative: As a teenager I painted my room, did a lot of photography and fashion designs. But I’m also good in selling, so I ended up in a business job instead of studying art or design or another creative profession. That’s probably my dilemma. But it’s never too late. To answer your question: Yes, some people were in fact surprised.
I can see that you have a good eye for the moment. Are all your photos “snapshots”?
Yes, most of them. I took them with my iPhone when I was driving in a cab in New York or running on the beach in the morning. The pictures of the Empire State Building, however, I shot from my New Yorker apartment with an analog camera.
Do you plan to do more art and maybe organize an exhibition or two?
Yes, I have many more pictures from the past that I will add to the collection, and I will, of course, also do new ones when the right moments come. I also did my first neon installation, the “vvcam”. It has a funny story. I was chatting with my new love in French and German and just wrote “vvcam”. She didn’t know what I meant. Then I wrote “Voulez vous...” The “vvcam” (wi:wi cam) now illuminates our living room and became a symbol for love, passion, trust, and the courage to go new ways and do the right thing. People love it. Perhaps I can do one or two exhibitions this year; it’s a matter of financing the production costs.
What would you call yourself?
Difficult question. After I did so many things already in my life, I always have problems telling people “what” I am. If you are lawyer or a doctor, it’s easy. I’m many things. Entrepreneur would probably be the best word. Or maybe I am an artist. Some people might say I’m not, since I didn’t go to an art academy. But for sure, I have creative and artistic veins in me.
Well, maybe someday your art will be shown in galleries and museums and people have your pictures on their walls at home. Who knows?
That would be awesome.
Thank you, Ralf, it was a pleasure talking to you.
Thanks, Gérard, always great to see you.
You can see all the images here.