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A meeting of two passions: coffee and art

Back to all articles 30 september 2017

In 1992, Francesco Illy had the idea of asking a group of artists to express their creativity on the surface of the coffee cup designed by Matteo Thun for illy. This marked the birth of the illy Art Collection, which transformed an object of everyday use into a white canvas on which, over the years, more than 100 artists of international fame, from great maestros to young talents, have tested their skill.

Twenty-five years later, the leading names in contemporary art continue to find inspiration in the white surface of the illy cup, turning the act of drinking an espresso into an experience which involves the senses and the mind. They have created a unique collection of objects of art for everyday use, a small, white porcelain canvas of the coffee cups which are entrusted to the hands of an artist. 

If coffee is experienced with all five senses, the very objects that hold coffee should please the eye.  Twenty years ago, illy considered how an everyday object like a coffee cup could be rethought – elevated, in fact, to meld the sensory pleasures of coffee and art.  
This insight gave rise to the illy Art Collection: small works of art, taking ceramic cup as medium, transforming the simple pleasure of drinking an espresso into an experience that fully engages the senses and the mind.

Every illy Art Collection project starts with the same, elegant canvas: the iconic, white illy espresso cup introduced by renowned architect and designer Matteo Thun in 1992.  Taking cup as muse, more than 100 of the world’s foremost artists have created collections since -no two ever alike, and each a revelation.  

Jeff Koons, James Rosenquist, Julian Schnabel, Robert Rauschenberg, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Marina Abramovic are just some of the contemporary masters who have contributed to the collection, along with emerging talent from around the globe. The illy Art Collection is available in sets of cups and companion saucers for espresso and cappuccino. Some special editions contain a single limited edition companion cup. In 2006, illy broadened the project to include its iconic, 250-gram can as medium.  Borne of cup, can or both, relationships among illy and contributing artists grow and strengthen over time, extending to other media and locales, like museums, exhibitions, books and events.   Yet more proof of the special bond shared by coffee and culture

Undoubtedly, the illy Art Collection stands as illy’s highest profile, ongoing cultural project.  Transforming that most everyday of objects, the coffee cup, into small works of art, using ceramic cup as medium, the project has for 20 years elevated the simple pleasure of drinking an espresso into an experience that fully engages the senses and the mind. 

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A meeting of two passions: coffee and art