illy Art Collection Turns 25

When my brother Francesco proposed to invite the great artist Sandro Chia to use the new white illy espresso cup as canvas and muse, it seemed like a good idea. As a fine photographer, my brother’s eye and instincts were razor sharp, so certainly the result would be pleasing.

What we didn’t (or more accurately, couldn’t) know at the time was that Chia’s seven “Italian Faces” cups would usher in one of the longest standing collaborations between artists and a brand. His work heralded the birth of the illy Art Collection, which now counts more than 400 distinct works, created by 111 of the world’s foremost masters of various forms: painters, sculptors, musicians, filmmakers, and even performance artists.

It was 1992, just one year after we had commissioned Matteo Thun to create that now iconic round-handled white cup, which was received as a work of art all its own, precisely as intended: an interpretation of something wholly familiar that would be entirely new. Thun, whose family was renowned for its work with porcelain, was asked to create something that would elevate the experience of consuming coffee, by both functional and aesthetic means. He delivered beyond all expectations.

The Thun cup opened in a new chapter in the story of illy, in which we resolved to make everything we would do and touch beautiful — an embodiment of our realization that beauty and taste are inextricably linked. What is beautiful is inherently good, and what is good is inherently beautiful, to summarize the ancient Grecian ideal that inspired our ideas.

I am especially reflective on the illy Art Collection, and grateful to its many contributors, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary in 2017. The celebration officially began earlier this month (quite fittingly) at the Venice Biennale, at a dinner with, and for, a number of those collaborators. Among those at our table, adorned with the Collection and itself a celebration of of it, were Marina Abramovic, Ron Arad, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Peter Baryshnikov, Jan Fabre, Joseph Kosuth, Laudomia Pucci and Luca Trazzi.

And there was our remarkably visionary and versatile friend Robert Wilson, whose retrospective of the Collection would open the next day at Magazzini del Sale, a ruggedly striking converted, ancient Venetian salt warehouse. There could be no better place for Wilson to realize his vision, titled “THE DISH RAN AWAY WITH THE SPOON everything you can think of is true.”

Seeing is believing, and experiencing, so I will mostly let Bob’s work speak for itself, in the images and video you will find here. The capability to listen, the ability to move, and the value of paying attention to everything that surrounds us are the concepts that beat at the heart of Bob’s masterpiece. Look closely into the mouth of a Siberian tiger situated in a forest taken from the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch; at mechanical bunnies with vintage interiors; and at wolves and active volcanoes, and you will see 25 years of illy Art Collection examples as never before: at once entirely familiar, and entirely new.

Andrea Illy with Courtney Love

Andrea Illy with Laudomia Pucci, Maina Abramovic

Andrea Illy with Robert Wilson

The exhibit remains open through July 16, and I invite anyone visiting Venice during that time to experience it.

I am equally proud of and humbled by the body of work that has become the the illy Art Collection, eternally grateful to the contemporary masters and emerging talent that has made it possible, and endlessly curious about what comes next. For certain, I know that it will be beautiful, and that it will be good, in the purest meaning of the word.