Los Angeles’ Arcana Books on the Arts

A chic destination shop for design and fashion tomes and out-of-print titles

About 10 years ago, one of my favourite shops in Santa Monica was the wonderful Arcana Books on the Arts, which specialised in fashion, art and design tomes. The shop had originally opened in the Westwood area in 1984, and later moved to several other locations, which I lost track of. So you can imagine my excitement when visiting a furniture shop in Culver City’s historic Helms Bakery building in Los Angeles, that I happened upon Arcana’s new incarnation.

The 4,400sq ft, light-filled space was a spectacular new home for the 100,000-plus books, which range from coffee-table tomes to out-of-print titles. The former industrial space has been transformed by architects Johnston Marklee and design firm Landlocd, a collaboration that showcases all the books that owners Lee and Whitney Kaplan have amassed in 30 years to glorious effect.


My first stop was the stacks of hard-to-find magazines that Kaplan sources from around the globe, stacked on tall black matte shelves, followed by a browse of conceptual art titles, such as Vito Acconci’s 0 to 9 ($750). I paged through a signed and numbered Peter Beard: The Art Edition ($5,000) and also discovered rare artist monographs in mint condition, including Andy Warhol: Catalogue of the Exhibition, with an introduction byAlan Solomon($800) and This Rimy River: Vaughan Oliver and V23 Graphic Works 1988-94 ($475) – a Plexiglas and leather-bound edition of the design firm’s work for rock bands such as The Breeders and Throwing Muses.


The visual, and intellectual, treasures here are endless, and not limited to the written word, either: several of Roy Lichtenstein’s Paper Plate Multiple ($300) – a c1969 screen-printed paper plate – available in blue, red and yellow, were also on display.

But what I love most about Arcana is discovering titles I never would have found on my own – books about, for example, the Japanese decorative arts or Comme des Garçons. My one real score, however, was an elegant copy of Georg Jensen: A Tradition of Splendid Silver ($100) that was signed and numbered by the author, and now sits atop my coffee table – a lovely reminder of one very serendipitous LA afternoon.

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