The Vienna Workshop: Wiener Werkstätte Masterpieces

The Auction at Phillips

Before Bauhaus and way before the Eames, there was the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop). This multi-disciplinary collective was arguably the most important force in changing the norms and forms of design during the 20th century. Phillips Auction House is continuing their new tradition of themed sales and presenting an amazing overview of the Wiener Werkstätte's output. Even if you are not planning on buying a $70,000 bread basket, this well-curated auction is an amazing opportunity to learn about the origins of Modernism. Contemporary Art superstar Jeff Koons once quipped that the art market is the best critic. Whether or not you agree with this, I could add that the auction houses are becoming the best instructors, especially for the field of 20th century design. Perusing through a fat auction catalog is far more educational and inspiring then visiting many of the institutions that actually collect or exhibit decorative arts.

A paradigm of this is Phillips' “Vienna and the Wiener Werkstätte” auction taking place in New York on March 3rd. If you are interested in design, and especially the precursors of Bauhaus and Modernism, check out their online catalog or visit the previews (in you live in London and New York).

The Wiener Werkstätte (pronounced “Veen-nir Wurk-shtat”) was founded in Vienna by painter Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffman, and operated from 1903-1932. The WW was a collective that encouraged creative collaboration between artists and craftsman, producing work in a variety of mediums including furniture, glass, metal, ceramics, textiles and jewelry. (The centerpiece of the sale is a 1905 pendant necklace designed by Koloman Moser carrying an estimate of $300,000-$400,000.) Nevertheless the sale is dominated by furniture and decorative arts from interiors of important commissions including the Palais Stoclet, Brussels. Aesthetically, WW dismissed the ornamentation that had dominated 19th century styles whether historical pastiche or Art Nouveau. It is astounding that many of the forms created by the WW seem both contemporary and vital over 75 years after their inception.

Auction Previews are great opportunities to see museum quality work for free. If you are in New York City be sure to visit Philips (in their new digs uptown) for the "Vienna and the Wiener Werkstätte" preview February 22 - March 2, with the sale the following day.

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