MILAN — “We speak the same language — beauty is an integral part of the ritual of coffee tasting,” said Andrea Illy, chairman and chief executive officer of coffee producer Illycaffè SpA, presenting the Watermill Center Illy Art Collection, designed by Robert Wilson and the Watermill Center artists.
Illy was speaking at Milan’s Triennale ahead of “Red Night,” a vernissage with art installations and performances held on the grounds of the museum last week. “Art is the means to represent beauty. The collection is like a dress that clothes the body — the drink. It is an object conceived to emphasize the sensorial component,” he said.
Illy, who was also celebrating his 50th birthday with the event, met Wilson through a common friend, Marina Abramovic. “The artist has carte blanche in the design of the collection,” underscored Illy, who is also head of the Italian luxury goods association Altagamma. Abramovic is one of the artists Illy has collaborated with since 1992 on the more than 70 Illy Art Collections. Others include Anish Kapoor, Jan Fabre, Jeff Koons, James Rosenquist and Julian Schnabel.
Wilson explained that the bright red “OK” design on the cups is a reference to the “first word ever pronounced” by Raymond Andrews, his deaf and mute African-American adopted son. “He would see things I was too preoccupied to hear,” said Wilson, highlighting the learning experience the director himself went through by association. The relationship also led to the silent play “Deafman Glance,” first performed in 1970. “Raymond learned to speak a few words and he was most comfortable with ‘OK.’ And ‘OK’ is the first word in my play.”
Coming up next: Jean Genet’s “The Blacks,” directed by Wilson, will premiere in Paris on Oct. 3. His production of “Cheek to Cheek,” a new installment in the PBS “Great Performances” series, will premiere on Oct. 24. The show features the duets of Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett. “[Lady Gaga] is a really special artist, and she’s always wanted to do jazz,” said Wilson.
At the event, guests descended a red-carpeted staircase at the back of the museum and were met with a surreal medley of installations and performance artists. From the top of the archway leading into the garden, a rock climber swung through long, tinsel-like strands that formed a curtain. Two artists dressed as great apes lounged in white fur suits on metal armchairs, while another, clad in red and surrounded by plush cushions of the same color, read poetry by Wisława Szymborska. The new Illy coffee cups gave the illusion of floating beneath a giant white cloud, and nearby, a woman wrapped in red yarn appeared to be knitting herself into a cage.
An exhibition of works by Christopher Knowles, one of the Watermill Center artists, will run at the Triennale’s Illy Arts Lab until Sept. 28.