Austria, c. 1950
Carl Auböck II
4½ × 2¼ × 5”
The Werkstätte Carl Auböck is a fourth-generation Viennese workshop known for its witty approach to modern industrial design. The workshop was founded in 1900 and reformed in 1926, when Carl Auböck II (1900–1957) returned from his studies at the Weimar Bauhaus and took over the metalsmith business of his father, Karl Heinrich Auböck (1872–1925). The workshop had originally created small, bronze figurines known as Wiener Bronzen, which were popular collectibles in Austria during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Auböck II, influenced by both his education and his father’s work, united functional modernism with Austrian craft, creating the visual style of the Werkstätte Carl Auböck.
During his tenure at the Bauhaus, Auböck II studied painting under color theorist Johannes Itten and later went on to become a prominent figure in 20th-century Austrian painting. Despite his success, he never abandoned his work in the decorative arts. Instead, he created sculptural yet functional objects, their use sometimes disguised by their form, such as the large skeleton key that unscrews to reveal a corkscrew or a brass ashtray in the form of a crown. Auböck II applied whimsy to the things he made; he played with material and scale, covering whiskey glasses in fur and clocks in leather, leading the workshop to become known for its unique use of material. He cast nine-inch functional brass paper clips and oversized functional brass clothespins (predating Claes Oldenburg) as paperweights and desk accessories. Other notable works were made with horn, bone, and found objects such as pebbles and tree stumps, all maintaining their natural form.
During the 1940s and ’50s, Carl Auböck II worked closely with his son, the architect Carl Auböck III (1924–1993), who later inherited the company. Those who witnessed this father-son collaboration noted how the two men worked exceptionally well together; they behaved more like pals or brothers than father and son, allowing for a bit of familial competition and necessary cooperation. —Maharam