Illy’s love for art, design and… Matteo Thun

The poster created by Thun for the Barcolana is just the latest chapter in the story linking illycaffè and creativity that started a long time ago and whose path even crossed with the Bauhaus.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Matteo Thun signed perhaps his most popular design ever – a coffee cup with archetypal shapes, with the hollow part tapering as it rises towards the rim and the famous ring-shaped grip that is the signature of a design conceived to be as anonymous and universal as possible. It is the famous illy coffee cup, the one still found on the counters of many cafés today. “The cup was the result of a historical briefing by illy in 1989. Thirty years and counting,” Matteo Thun told Domus

“A combination of simplicity, elegance and functionality: a timeless object,” he continues. An object that, among other things, connected the designer to his family history, his parents’ ceramic objects company. 

Matteo Thun. Photo © Nacho Alegre
Matteo Thun. Photo © Nacho Alegre

For more than thirty years, Thun’s cup has also been a blank canvas, a small piece of architecture on which others have overwritten their art. To date, around 125 artists, more or less famous and established, have decorated it thus contributing to the huge illy Art Collection. “I am happy that many artists have used the cup to draw their ideas,” says the architect and designer.

A combination of simplicity, elegance and functionality: a timeless object.

Thirty years later, illycaffè once again relies on Thun for the poster of the Barcolana, of which the company has been the artistic director since 2015. In the past, artists such as Pistoletto, Abramovic and Mattotti have been involved.

Cristina Scocchia and Mitja Gialuz Presenting the Barcolana 54 Manifesto

The poster designed by Thun is a colourful fingerprint, in which the lines created by the friction ridges look like marine currents. “This poster resonates with our human nature,” explains the designer. “This year, illy’s theme was currents and our main current is joie de vivre.” For the president of the Società Velica di Barcola e Grignano, Mitja Gialuz, who’s organised the fifty-fourth edition of the Barcolana, Thun’s poster “is a perfect synthesis of the profound values behind Barcolana”.

Next year it will be ninety years since Ferenc Illy founded the homonymous company, “with the dream of uniting the beautiful and the good in coffee,” explains Cristina Scocchia, who a few months ago became the CEO of illycaffè. Hungarian-born, a citizen of the world, a cosmopolitan, Illy loved music, cooking, and indeed art – with a passion for Bauhaus, whose adventure as a school came to an end in the very year illycaffè was founded. What did not come to an end was Bauhaus’ lesson, which combined art and design, aesthetics and function. And which probably inspired the values of the entrepreneur.

Manifesto Barcolana 2022, Matteo Thun. Courtesy Barcolana
Manifesto Barcolana 2022, Matteo Thun

From the founder’s vocation to unite ethics and aesthetics, explains Scocchia, along with a plethora of values such as environmental sustainability, kindness and respect, stems the brand’s particular inclination towards art and design – a surprising element that, she admits, intrigued her even before she joined the company. 

La tazzina nasce da un briefing storico di illy nel 1989. Trent’anni e non dimostrarli.

“Live happily” is illycaffè’s motto. It is difficult for the Trieste-based brand to think of it without the added value of creativity, which accompanies it in many initiatives and also in the logo. The current one was created by James Rosenquist, the father of pop art. The first was designed by the painter and graphic designer Xanti Schawinsky, who at the time was working for the Boggeri studio, responsible among other things for the logotype of another Italian important company, Olivetti, which in those years had just passed under Adriano’s direction. 

illycaffè Art Collection 30th Anniversary
illycaffè Art Collection 30th Anniversary

Schawinsky, a student of the Bauhaus (here we are, once again talking about Bauhaus, and not by chance) and a friend of Breuer’s, before moving to New York was also involved in the design of the Ivrea-based company’s famous Studio 42 typewriter and the decoration of its shop in Turin, which Domus praised in an article published in August 1935, which stated that “very rarely, especially in Italy”, had one seen “a similar work”, which combined “the most refined and significant elements of modern taste”, deserving to all intents and purposes to be considered a work of art.

Besides the illy Art Collection, illycaffè is a sponsor of many important contemporary art exhibitions and the Venice Art Biennale. This year, on the occasion of the 2022 edition, the new collection of cups was presented, signed by the curator of “The Milk of Dreams” Cecilia Alemani. For the company, the role of the cup is clear, explains Scocchia. It is a way to make contemporary art accessible to everyone, to bring it to the general public, who perhaps discovers certain established or emerging artists right at the bar counter. “For many, it is a discovery,” she concludes. And in October there will be a new one, the details of which cannot be disclosed for now.

illycaffè Art Collection 30th Anniversary
illycaffè Art Collection 30th Anniversary

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