Illy’s Art Commissions

Illycaffè, the Italian coffee roasting company that specializes in the production of espresso and espresso makers, has been making contributions toward the creation and exhibition of contemporary art, by supporting artists, institutions and international exhibitions, for over 25 years.


Sponsor in 2011 for the Venice Biennial, “Ascension”, a site specific installation by Anish Kapoor, marked by a whirling white smoke inside the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore.




One of their most interesting activities has been to transform an everyday object — the coffee cup  — into a small work of art, using ceramic cups as the medium.  For 25 years, this project has elevated the simple pleasure of drinking an espresso into an experience which involves the senses and the mind.

Over 100 artists have contributed designs, each adorning the white porcelain illy cup introduced by Mattheo Thun in 1992.   In 2006, the project expanded to another common,  if  unexpected medium —  illy’s own coffee cans.

The beginning of the Illy Art Collection was in 1992 when Francesco Illy asked a group of artists to express their creativity and over the years, over 100 artists — from well established artists to young talents — have been commissioned to decorate a set of six cups.

25 years later, leading names in contemporary art continue to create designs,  Some of the artists that Illy has worked with include Yoko Ono,  Marina Abramovic, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Jannis Kounellis, Daniel Buren, Louise Bourgeois, Jeff Koons, Robert Rauschenberg, Joseph Kosuth, Jan Fabre, Sandro Chia, and James Rosenquist, who created the iconic white brushstroke-on-red square illy logo.


One of the latest commissions is the set by Yoko Ono. “Mended Cups” which consists of six cups that bear gold, shattered and mended crack lines. These are accompanied by six individual saucers with Yoko Ono’s handwriting, naming six catastrophic events that have directly affected her life, and others only indirectly; but have brought death to millions of people.

Each saucer states the date and location of the event and concludes with the words … mended in 2015. The seventh cup in the collection, the “Umbroken Cup”, is untouched with no cracked or mended lines, reflecting peace and hope with Ono’s handwritten words on the saucer, “This cup will never be broken as it will be under your protection. “



2 Yoko Ono cups of 2015, and Sandro Chia cup from 1997

Emilio Pucci Fashion House Collaboration


Another one of the recent commissions was the collaboration with the Florentine fashion house, Emilio Pucci.  The new project represented the company’s first partnership with a fashion label. Florence, Rome, Milan, New York, London and Paris: Emilio Pucci’s signature patterns have now been applied to a special collection of decorated coffee cups, featuring 6 “Cities of the World” prints, exclusive, hand drawn prints depicting scenes from global metropolises, including one designed by the Marquis Emilio Pucci in 1957.

The story of Emilio Pucci’s “Cities of the World” prints began in 1957 when the Emilio Pucci penned his Battistero illustration, a drawing showing Florence’s Piazza Santa Maria del Fiore shot with bright flashes of vibrant lemon yellow tangerine orange, “Emilio” pink and deep fuchsia.  Originally produced for his chic silk scarves, the print was conceived as a portable postcard; a love letter to the Marquise’s hometown and a souvenir his clients could carry and treasure when they returned home. Roughly sketched and brightly colored, the original artwork embodies Pucci’s signature, well-known style and became the blue print for the other cities which were subsequently hand-drawn by the atelier of the Maison. 


Each print replicates the architecture, landscape and charming details of its tribute city in a stylized way. Rome’s historic Spanish Steps and Coliseum, Paris’ famed Eiffel Tower, Milan’s soaring Duomo, London’s whizzing city streets and New York’s sky scrapers, are all interpreted in a uniquely Pucci way.  Each city has been assigned two original color schematics from the Emilio Pucci palette, which are divided between the espresso and cappuccino cups, as well as the brightly patterned saucers.



two Emilio Pucci cups, 2016, and one Maurizio Galinberti cup

Other Art Projects:

At the Magazzini del Sale in Venice, Robert Wilson has designed an installation: “the dish ran away with the spoon everything you can think of is true”. The installation was inspired by the collections of coffee cups, in which images, lights and sounds mark a pathway which winds its way through various landscapes inhabited by objects and sculptures. The illy Art Collection cups live in this theatre-like landscape which Robert Wilson has composed through contrast and juxtaposition, creating a rhythm of audiovisual images and experiences.



In 1997 and in the editions of 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 illycaffe has been partner in Italy of the Venice Biennial of Visual Arts, where it sponsored projects and built spots to take a break and to put the visual suggestions in order. Some of these projects included:

In 1997 the sculpture “Valentine Perfume” at Venice Biennal

In 1997 the sculpture “Valentine Perfume”, an aluminium statue of seven meters, positioned at the entrance of the Biennial, and made by Claes Oldenburg, and his wife Coosje van Bruggen.

In 2007, illymind evolved into Push Button House, a work of art designed by the American artist and architect Adam Kalkin: a compact container that changed by simply pressing a button and opened as a flower in a viable and perfectly furnished space.

In 2011, “Ascension”, a site specific installation of Anish Kapoor, marked by a whirling white smoke inside the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore.

Some of  the other art initiatives have included:

Opening temporary spaces – the Galleria illy — that offer visitors a program of art, literature, and science; events with international names in design and haute cuisine. Galleria illy has been already opened in New York, Milan, Trieste, Berlin, Istanbul, London and Beijing

Launched in 2007, the illy SustainArt project offers artists of the emerging countries chances to be more visible. The core of the project is the Website, a showcase open to the contemporary art world, which acts as a reference point, a meeting place, a cultural exchange occasion for artists and curators coming from emerging countries. In this place they have the chance to show their works to major figures in a global contemporary art panorama: Meskerem Assegued, Carlo Bach, Carlos Basualdo, Suman Gopinath, Gerardo Mosquera, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mariangela Mendez Prencke, and Angela Vettese.

The IllySustainArt Prize goes in this same direction: the company awards it to an artist and a curator registered at the Website and to emerging talents selected on the occasion of significant international events, among which Arco Madrid, SP-Arte Sao Paulo, and Art Rotterdam.

Salgado: “Scent of a Dream” — A Journey in the Coffee World

In photography, Illy has maintained an ongoing collaboration with the well-known photographer Sebastião Salgado, who was commissioned to chronicle the origins and people in the world of coffee — bringing to life through black and white images, the multi-nation story of sustainability.

Started in 2002, when Sebastião Salgado and illy met, Scent of a dream is a photographic journey through coffee growing countries. The project is based on a shared common value: sustainable development.

The series, “Scent of a Dream”, was constructed, shot by shot, in ten of the countries from which illy buys coffee: Brazil, India, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Colombia, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Tanzania. The black and white photographs celebrate the daily lives of those on the plantations, and the beauty of the regionsr from which the coffee bean is grown and harvested.

With the collaboration of Bevilacqua La Masa Foundation “Scent of a Dream” was exhibited at the Foundation’s gallery in Piazza San Marco in Venice. The exhibition consisted of 75 images from the photographic journey. The exhibition had an extensive tour in 2015 that included the Coffee Cluster curated by illy inside Expo 2015 Milan.

A book was published in conjunction with the exhibition, Scent of a Dream, with images selected by Lélia Wanick Salgado, with texts by Andrea Illy, Luis Sepulveda, Angela Vettese and Sebastião Salgado.

Salgado was born in 1944 in Minas Gerais, one of Brazil’s major coffee growing regions, he found work as an economist for the International Coffee Organization. But photography went from avocation to calling, and in 1973, Salgado started a career in images by documenting the lives of poor, migrant workers in Latin America and Africa.

Additional information about Illy’s art programs can be found at



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *