, the now defunct publication printed in Venice, California, was the only magazine dedicated to a moment––specifically, that moment when we feel secure enough to let go, and let our inner selves breathe. Wanting to explore the ties between the act of bathing and this intimate state of being (and also being influenced by Japanese culture and its onsen,
or hot bath, tradition), Leonard Koren founded his magazine of "gourmet bathing."
went beyond the bath, offering all sorts of rare interviews, refreshing photos, gorgeous artwork, and witty reviews and columns, with subjects and contributors that included David Byrne, David Hockney, and Matt Groening. While the magazine had the lifespan of a meteor, folding in 1981 after a five-year run, it retains a cult-like mystique today. With the recent release of WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing,
now available at OC, we couldn't think of a better time to ask Koren, a trained artist and architect, a couple of questions.
Alexandre Stipanovich: Where does your fascination with bathing come from?
Leonard Koren: I don't think I'm all that unusual. Most people love bathing in one form or another. That said, I do remember going to an extraordinary Russian-Jewish bath house in New York when I was about nine years old. The otherworldly atmosphere—the steam, the sloshing water, the crisp sounds against hard tile surfaces, the camaraderie of the bathers—did leave a big impression on my youthful imagination.
AS: You just published a book on the making of WET. How did the project come about?
LK: For a long time I wanted to make a book about the WET
experience but couldn't figure a way to do so that wasn't nostalgic. I generally don't like nostalgia. Then an Italian bathroom-fixture manufacturer asked if I would start publishing WET
again. I said no, but it got me thinking. I had just finished writing a rather intellectually dense aesthetics primer and I wanted my next book project to be lighter—less mental and more sensorial. Around this time, I became a late-in-life father. I felt a need to leave evidence of my past artistic entrepreneurship for my son, should he ever be interested. Slowly, a way of making a WET
book relevant to our present cultural moment became clear. So I proceeded.
AS: You talk about the concept of "gourmet bathing" in your book. Would you say it celebrates a way of life, an art of being?
LK: Yes, very much so. Gourmet bathing hinges on two principles: One, remembering that your sensual connection to the world is essential to knowing who and what you are. And two, remembering that you live in an absurd world.
AS: Do you see any freedom, absurdity, or creativity equivalent to WET's in magazines today?
LK: Not really. WET
wasn't formulaic, but most of today’s culture is so “packaged” that I rarely sense genuine freedom, absurdity, or creativity in commercially available products—and magazines are commercial products. Occasionally something crosses my radar that makes me smile and gives me hope though. Last month my son and I were in a bookstore. He found a package of “Jesus Dress-Up in Star Wars
Costumes” refrigerator magnets. He asked me to buy them for him. I was pleased that he is becoming a connoisseur of absurdity at such a tender age.
AS: Could you tell us about a memorable WET party? Did people actually show up naked and wrapped in towels?
LK: I actually discuss my favorite WET
events in Making WET
. Generally, I would say that all WET
parties were designed to be unpredictable happenings. This intention to confound the expectations of party-goers made the parties very interesting. Of course the bathing, the music, and the food—and let's not forget the nudity—helped up the coefficient of fun.
AS: Which covers are your favorites?
LK: It’s hard to pick my favorites, but I like the seven shown here [see left] very much.
AS: Looking back, do you think you realized your original idea of "gourmet bathing"?
LK: More or less, yes.
AS: Could you tell us about the best bathing experience you've ever had? Or an ideal bath?
LK: In general, the last bathing experience I had is my favorite. I don't have an “ideal bath” in mind, but my favorite mode of bathing is soaking in a tub of hot water. Unfortunately, I live in a house with two showers but no tub. My last soaking experience was two years ago in a friend's castle outside of Antwerp, Belgium. He has a slipper-shaped copper tub in a corner of his huge attic. The light is dim but you can see the ancient, rough-hewn timber ceiling overhead. I took off my clothes, eased into the hot water, closed my eyes, and let my mind wander. It was like coming home.
Making WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing is available here.