Ai Weiwei Ready to Unveil Espresso Cups for Illy

Provocative contemporary artist Ai Weiwei is the latest artist to be recruited by Illy to design espresso cups.

His Illy Art Collection cups will debut May 19. Understandably, the 90-year-old Italian coffee specialist believes that coffee should not just be a communal experience but a multisensory one. Illy believes that coffee should be experienced with all five senses, with the touch of the cup and its design being paramount to that.

The espresso cups borrow from Ai Weiwei’s “Coloured Vases,” which involved taking Neolithic vases and splashing them in paint cans. Imagine saucers and the interiors of espresso cups splattered with color.

By teaming with Ai Weiwei, the Italian company seems to be taking chances in terms of future growth. Illy acknowledged as much in press material related to the upcoming launch. The company seems to be undaunted by the potential risk of alienating China, which is one of its fastest-growing markets.

Ai Weiwei was unavailable for an interview, according to an Illy spokeswoman.

The espresso cup project is only the latest endeavor that he has taken on. On May 15, the Skirball Cultural Center will present “Ai Weiwei: Trace,” that is meant to relay courage in response to authoritarianism. The dissident artist was detained in China in 2011 for reportedly planning a party to mark the demolition of his Shanghai studio. The exhibition will be on view in Los Angeles until Aug. 1.

His new memoir “1,000 Years of Joys and Sorrows” is due out in November with a cover that he has designed. This fall the artist will also launch Circa, a curated platform for digital art, and he will unveil a limited-edition collection of scarves and bags with Taschen.

Carlo Bach, the art director at Illy, has been heading up the brand’s art collection project since it first started nearly 30 years ago. The multisensory approach to espresso drinking reflects Illy’s ideology that one cup of coffee does not taste the same to two different people.

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