Transcript: Unbox M+: Henry Steiner’s Design Archive

Unbox M+: Henry Steiner’s Design Archive

TINA PANG: I'm Tina Pang, curator of Hong Kong Visual Culture. And this is Shirley Surya.

SHIRLEY SURYA: Yeah, I'm Shirley, I'm a curator for Design and Architecture.

TINA PANG: And we're in Henry Steiner's studio to pack up the archive to bring to M+ storage. We've picked three projects that date from [the] '60s, '70s, and '80s to share with you a little bit of Henry's design ethos. The first project we should talk about is The Asia Magazine.


TINA PANG: Because this is where it all begins.

SHIRLEY SURYA: It was the most widely circulated English magazine about Asia. These are all printed in Tokyo, and then the headquarter moved to Hong Kong and that's what brought Steiner to Hong Kong in 1961 as the art director. And you could tell, even from the logo, The Asia Magazine—this is all Steiner's hand and intervention, [the] almost script-like font he used.

TINA PANG: Some of the covers that we have here date to 1961, which is the date that Henry arrived in Hong Kong.

SHIRLEY SURYA: We are really crazy about this cover because when we saw it, like– this is like pre-Michael Wolf days, oh, my goodness. So just focusing on really vernacular local scenes in Hong Kong and the housing estate. You could see, like, from bird cages to people hanging out of the balcony.

TINA PANG: This sort of documented a really significant moment in Hong Kong history. And then you go in a completely other direction where you have this amazing bilingual treatment of an idea.

SHIRLEY SURYA: We're just going to flip through the amazing stories that are in this magazine as an example. Cigarette ads don't exist anymore. Nightlife of Bangkok to housing estate in Hong Kong.

TINA PANG: The lives of ordinary people done in a very dignified way. And I think the really impressive thing about Asia Magazine is that it debunks all of these kind of stereotypes about Asia.

SHIRLEY SURYA: We are completely fascinated with the HSBC annual report that Henry Steiner designed. So, if you know annual reports, they are very dry documents, which means that they're all statistics for investors that kind of put money into the bank and to build trust, all of that. But Henry Steiner completely changed the game of annual reports. This is an example from 1975. So if you would open this up like a folder, you will see– basically like a mural on the wall, and you wonder, ‘Is this real or is this photoshop?’ It was actually a real commission on site. And then you open it, and there's another, even more– like a long, long spread. So it is this kind of effort that's really being put [in]; very imaginative and almost high budget production. Again, his sensitivity to scripts. This is another annual report from 1972, and it's very simple. You know, it's like someone just drawing on a chalkboard. But then when you go in, there are like many more booklets that are really even using the Tamil script, Chinese script, and using the Arabic script. So this story about how the effort that has gone into the designing [of] the annual report was featured in the magazine– HSBC magazine.

TINA PANG: So this is a later one from 1981, in preparation for the new building. It’s a feature on architecture. They ran a competition and invited a thousand children to submit drawings and models. He’s included some of these submissions.

SHIRLEY SURYA: We can tell, Henry's interest is, for me, it’s through the content of the magazine, is to focus on typography, from signage to, yeah, everything.

TINA PANG: So the last project we're going to talk about today is a very special project. It's a club known as the I Club.

SHIRLEY SURYA: The idea of club here is not the dancing club. Kind of like a proponent of a particular kind of lifestyle or taste making. And so everything from what– how the whole club was designed, the kind of artwork that is being shown there which are largely from the collection of this guy called Alfred Siu, who's a developer. He's a structural engineer, but he really just gave completely free rein for Henry Steiner to come up with the branding for this club. And so this collateral, like what Tina has said, is really, you could tell, different kinds of ‘I’. And then, of course, the idea of ‘I’ for us is like, ‘Oh, this is like the iPhone’. You know, like the iPhone culture. But this is like forty years ago and he already came up with the idea of the ‘I’—like individualism, but also the fact that the ‘I’ are all different shapes. It's meant to show that it’s fluid, it's dynamic, and it's everchanging.

So you want to pick up some [of] your favorite things?

TINA PANG: I love, I love the invitation. So this project is from 1982. And this is an invitation to a launch. Once you open it, the reflection shows the ‘I’. So once the Club opens, the identity of the Club as this space for, as mentioned in Albert Siu's letter to members, ‘It's bringing the best in art and entertainment to Hong Kong from around the world’.

SHIRLEY SURYA: This one is actually the opening catalogue for the Club. And you could tell the inverted ‘I’ or even the idea of it could be a Roman pillar or column, but also both a combination of serif and sans serif put together. But the main thing about the I Club was really the art collection. Really about Henry's continuity in art direction and hiring, working with photographers to really lay this out like a spread. I think it's not just a high-end, elite thing, but it's really an international vision—Whether it is by hiring someone like– a designer like Henry Steiner, or even hiring an interior designer like Joe D'Urso, or even just focusing on a particular kind of art and design collection.

This is really an example of M+’s focus on really collecting graphic design archives as much as we acquire architectural archives. Even when we're looking at it, it not only reveals this sort of, like, design collateral or vision, but there's so much stories even in how this design could come about. And that's everything to do with the client, everything to do with the atmosphere and the state of things in Hong Kong. Quite overblown every time we look at the archive, like, ‘Oh, my gosh, there's more to understand’. So these archives will be open for the public to be able to kind of dig up and discover more stories.

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