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The Wiener Werkstätte Collage

The Wiener Werkstätte

Started: 1903

Ended: 1932

The Wiener Werkstätte Timeline

"Our aim is to create an island of tranquility in our own country which, amid the joyful hum of arts and crafts, would be welcome to anyone who professes faith in Ruskin and Morris."

Josef Hoffmann

Summary

The Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Workshops) was one of the longest-lived design movements of the twentieth century and a key organization for the development of modernism. Centered in the Austrian capital, it stood at the doorway between traditional methods of manufacture and a distinctly avant-garde aesthetic. The Wiener Werkstätte's emphasis on complete artistic freedom resulted in a prodigious output of designs, and this, along with an army of skilled craftsmen and a complex network of production and distribution made it the standard for Austrian design between the dawn of the century and the depths of the Great Depression. Led by the unassuming architect Josef Hoffmann and his associates such as Dagobert Peche and Koloman Moser, the Wiener Werkstätte drew from movements such as the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau as well as from traditional folk art, and forecasted the flowering of Art Deco and the International Style in the interwar period. Its demise in the midst of repeated financial crises demonstrates the ultimate inability of artistic enterprises to completely free themselves from the economic concerns of the age.

Key Ideas

The Wiener Werkstätte was the first organization in Austria dedicated to the production of modern decorative arts. Together with the Vienna Secession, out of which it was formed, it broke away from the stylistic revivals that had dominated Austrian architecture and design during the 19th century, though eventually it returned to historical tropes when new designers joined the group in the 1910s.
The Wiener Werkstätte initially emphasized the creation of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or "total work of art," that sought to create a unified aesthetic across an entire designed environment, though this effort eventually fragmented into a highly diverse set of fields, with less and less emphasis on architecture and large-scale interiors, largely due to the financial constraints of the group's clients.
The Wiener Werkstätte innovatively envisioned that many of its activities would complement and promote each other - for example, its postcards often featured the Workshops' output in architecture, textiles, fashion, and glass and ceramics - a move that helped Werkstätte attain two of its goals: first, narrowing the gap in prestige between artistic genres; and second, bolstering the commercial visibility of its designs.
Unlike other contemporaneous movements in the decorative arts and design, the Wiener Werkstätte did not seek to create an art that would be accessible to all and enlighten the masses; instead, the group focused on the highest quality craftsmanship and materials for a socioeconomic elite that, perhaps ironically, would treat its work more as art objects than utilitarian items.
Translated as the "Viennese Workshops," the name Wiener Werkstätte represents well the nature of its organization: it incorporated the craft-based production of decorative arts in a mostly rural country, which was historically concentrated in its primary metropolis. Though its artists made ample use of new industrial materials, they resisted temptations to completely turn to mass production.
The artistry of the Wiener Werkstätte always took primacy over the commercial bottom line of the enterprise, and its reliance on wealthy underwriters to sustain its activities contributed to its gross financial insolvency. This, exacerbated by periods of broader economic troubles, was primarily responsible for its demise.
The Wiener Werkstätte Image

Raging against "The boundless evil caused by shoddy mass-produced goods and by the uncritical imitation of earlier styles," Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffman founded the Wiener Werkstätte as "an island of tranquility..amid the joyful hum of arts and crafts."

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Content compiled and written by Peter Clericuzio

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Peter Clericuzio
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 16 May 2017. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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