Carl Auböck Modernist Nut Cracker, Austria, 1950s
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About Carl Auböck (Designer)
The Viennese artist and designer Carl Auböck is one of the quirkiest and most delightful and collectible of modern designers. A rather odd duck in the world of decorative arts, he was a peculiar talent whose specialties included smaller accessory furnishings and tabletop pieces such as corkscrews, paperweights, letter openers, book ends and bottle stoppers. He rendered these pieces in a combination of metal — most often brass — and such elemental materials as leather, knobby wood and animal horn, creating forms that could be almost surreal, from hands and feet to keys, birds and amoebae.
As a boy, Auböck was precocious and artistic. He studied drawing and at the same time trained in the workshop of his father, a popular maker of traditional bronze figurines and collectibles. In 1919, he went to Germany to study at the Bauhaus, where he was a pupil of the progressive artist and theorist Johannes Ittens. While the Bauhaus is most associated with the rigidly ordered, functionalist architecture of its directors Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the school was in reality a liberal, spirited place — a crucible for imaginative, playful and avant-garde art and design. It was this spirit that imbued Auböck’s work from the time he left in 1921 to return to work with his father in Vienna, and that was passed on to his descendants, who run the atelier that is still in operation today.
Vintage Auböck designs have a special character, a patina that only emphasizes how much the pieces have been loved and used. His small furniture items — leather- or caned-sling magazine racks; free-edge wooden side tables with tubular bronze legs; wicker serving trolleys with turned beechwood wheels — are elegant and purposeful. His bijoux desktop objects, library tools, ashtrays and barware pieces evince a kind of mirthful practicality. They seem to ask: “If you need a corkscrew, or a paperweight, or a candlestick, why not make it fun as well as functional?” And indeed, why not?