Archivi Storici Politecnico di Milano – Archivio Albe e Lica Steiner
Albe Steiner (Milan 1913-Agrigento 1974) began dedicating himself to graphics in the 1930s as part of the anti-fascist underground and, self-taught, became one of the leading figures in the industry throughout the 50s and 60s.
A firm believer in the need for a relationship between art and political and social engagement, and therefore a promoter of the cultural responsibility of graphics in teaching and informing the masses, he created a visual language that stood out for its clarity and readability, making it easier to interpret and understand the written message. An immediately recognisable style, with hints of the visual culture of the Bauhaus and Russian constructivism and also influenced by typography and photography.
He got closer to the Communist Party and, with his wife Lica, his inseparable life and working companion, carried out underground information and propaganda activities, working on the graphical layouts of party fliers, manifestos and magazines, introducing a new relationship between text and images in the 1940s and contributing to opening Italy’s doors to a modern visual culture.
After the Liberation he was responsible for the graphical layout of Elio Vittorini’s “Politecnico”, exerting his influence on the development of Italian graphics. He went on to work for numerous other magazines, for leading Italian publishing houses like Feltrinelli and Zanichelli, for many left-leaning Italian newspapers, for cultural bodies and institutions, and for major companies like Pirelli and Olivetti.
Between 1950 and 1955 he worked with la Rinascente and, as art director, was given the job, together with Max Huber, of redeveloping its corporate image, from the indoor and outdoor displays to advertising graphics. The aim was to communicate the philosophy and aesthetic and technical choices of the great department store in a comprehensible and crisp manner. He designed the Compasso d’Oro logo and was also behind several original window display solutions, for which he used light and easy-to-combine materials.
The Abe and Lica Steiner Archive is kept at the Historical Archives of Milan Polytechnic, an archiving service officially launched in 2013 that conserves, records, promotes and enriches the 34 archives currently entrusted to it. It is home to historical archives pertaining to the activities of the Polytechnic, conserved since its founding in 1863 (the former Archivio Storico di Ateneo - University Historical Archive), as well as special archives donated by the departments, central libraries and private parties: archives that document the activities of important figures in the fields of engineering, architecture and design, also often connected with the history of the university. One of its most notable special archives is the Albe and Lica Steiner Archive, which joined the Historical Archives in 2013 and in 1998 was declared to be of significant historical interest (in accordance with the current Leg. Decree 42/2004, heading I) by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities.
The selection proposed here regards the period of collaboration between Steiner and la Rinascente and includes photographic prints of the external window displays, indoor stands and displays, and the original display projects for the windows and indoor decorations.