At Bernardgasse 23 in Vienna’s 7th district is a workshop that has been creating objects of unparalleled design and craftsmanship for over a century. This workshop is the Werkstätte Carl Auböck. Family run by four generations of Auböcks, Werkstätte Carl Auböck still produces highly sought-after pieces today.
The Werkstätte Carl Auböck was founded in 1912 by the bronze smith Karl Henirch Auböck. Under Karl, the workshop produced bronze animal statues and figurines as part of the “Vienna Bronzes” movement popular during this time. But it wasn’t until until his son, Carl Auböck II, joined the workshop in 1919 that there would be extraordinary changes.
In 1919, Carl Auböck II was attending drawing class at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna when he met Swiss painter Johannes Itten. Carl II later followed Itten to the Bauhaus in Weimar in the winter of 1919. There, Carl II attended Itten’s renowned Introductory Course and worked in the metal workshop of Naum Slutzky. After leaving the Bauhaus in 1921, he returned to Vienna to work full time at his father’s Werkstätte in 1923.
At his father’s workshop, the younger Auböck began to develop a series of intriguing new pieces with far more modern designs than the Art Deco style pieces that the workshop had produced to date. In 1923, Carl II married Mara Utschkunova, a sculptor and, later, textile artist whom he met in Weimar. The following year, their only son, Carl Auböck III was born.
After the elder Auböck, Karl Heinrich, passed away in 1925, Carl II went on to oversee a growing number of exciting new projects. The workshop ventured beyond bronze animal statues and began producing abstract, functional art objects, including corkscrews, bottle stoppers, paperweights, and, due to Carl II’s fondness for coffee and cigarettes, many ashtrays. There was also a new material of choice: brass. Through skilled polishing and patinating, Carl II gave each brass piece depth and soul.
Carl Auböck II had a distinctive and whimsical design style that artfully imparted new functions to familiar forms. With his dedication to uncompromising craftsmanship, ingenuity, and novel use of found objects (aka “objét trouvés”), he created distinguishing works, such as the acclaimed Tree Table (pictured below). Designs such as the Tree Table changed the landscape of art and design not only in Austria but internationally, which is why Carl II’s work can be found in nearly every major art museum’s design collection around the world.
As a young architect and designer, Carl II’s son, Carl III, proved to be a worthy heir to the Auböck legacy. While completing postgraduate work at MIT in 1951, Carl III made the acquaintance of many designers, such as Charles Eames, Benjamin Thompson, and George Nelson. He also reconnected with his father’s old Bauhaus acquaintances, Walter Gropius and Herbert Bayer. In subsequent years, Carl III worked with his father in Vienna to move the style of the workshop toward industrial design. Together, the two Carls had a spirited and devoted partnership. Feeding off their chemistry in the workshop, each created objects of astounding design and quality for the home, from coat racks and floor lamps to table bells and shoe horns.
In 1957, Carl Auböck II passed away, leaving Carl III to run the workshop with his wife Justine. Carl III was a visionary who enjoyed traveling and thus expanded Auböck design on an international scale, gaining notable commercial clients like Tiffany & Co. and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, the Ginza Shiseido Boutique in Tokyo, Harrods of London, and Paris’s Christofle. Carl III continued to develop his own collections through the 1980s, while maintaining his belief that good design could heal the world.
Carl Auböck III’s children, Justine Auböck, a talented landscape architect and teacher, and Carl Auböck IV, an architect and, like the preceding Carls, designer, took over the reins of the Werkstätte Carl Auböck in 1993 after their father’s death. As heads of the company to this day, Justine and Carl IV helped to successfully stage a comprehensive Carl Auböck solo exhibition at the Wien Museum in 1997. They also oversaw two book publications that catalogued the workshop’s historical products as part of the Carl Auböck Archive, attributing more than 4,500 objects to Werkstätte Carl Auböck.
The old Viennese townhouse that witnessed the birth of the iconic hand-shaped bottle opener along with numerous other iconic designs, Werkstätte Carl Auböck still produces not only newly developed collections and collection pieces on a flexible and ever-changing basis, but also “classic” Werkstätte Carl Auböck designs. Even though attention is still meticulously paid to Old World craftsmanship, enduring quality, and timeless, good design, there are still collectors that search for vintage Auböck pieces. Carl Auböck IV said it best when asked about Auböck pieces fading or disappearing from fashion with evolving times in a 2012 interview with Vienna based artist and writer Thomas Branstaetter:
“Every collector is on the lookout for an Auböck piece they’ve never seen before. And they know they’ll recognize it by its uniqueness. I wouldn’t quite call that disappearing… I’d call it a legend.”
Written by Jordan Martin
Photos provided by the Carl Auboeck Archive Vienna
Source: Kois, C. (2012). Carl Auböck, the workshop. Brooklyn, N.Y.: PowerHouse Books.