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All Roads Lead to Doha: Cities as Creative Inspiration

3 January 2023

Interview with Massimiliano Gioni

Massimiliano Gioni, co-curator of the exhibition Forever Valentino, discusses the important role that Rome has played in developing the Valentino aesthetic, and the role of cities as creative hubs and cultural instigators.

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Q. What role do you think cities play in the lives of artists, creatives and designers?

Massimiliano Gioni: The history of contemporary art – actually the entire history of art – is also a history of cities, where artists and patrons come together. Just to simplify, brutally, think of Florence in the Renaissance, Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century, New York after the Second World War. In recent years, art historians and curators have encouraged us to think of a much more polyphonic view of art history. The notion of one single center dominating the art discourse is by now completely disregarded, but that has resulted in a polycentric view of art, in which multiple cities and multiple centers develop different and parallel languages simultaneously.

Doha has emerged as an important center in the past few years and quite interestingly it is also looking at the histories of other cities: Rome for Forever Valentino, but also Baghdad for the show Baghdad: Eye's Delight at the Museum of Islamic Art.

Two dresses and a sculpture

Q. What is it about the city of Rome, for example, that has been so essential to the development of the Valentino aesthetic?

Gioni: Obviously Rome has a long history as an art capital, which dates back more than two thousand years. When Valentino chose it as the headquarters of his newly founded maison and also as an incredibly rich source of inspiration for his work, Rome was certainly not a center for fashion – which at that time gravitated towards Florence and Paris. But it was at the peak of a post-war movement, which included the visual arts, cinema in particular – with the explosion of neorealism and the budding talent of Federico Fellini and his “Dolce Vita” – as well as literature and more generally a lifestyle or a quality of life that attracted people from all over the world.

I think in Rome Valentino found what Pierpaolo Piccioli, the current creative director of the maison, calls an effortless beauty: a form of beauty that is both ancient but constantly renewed in everyday life – a kind of spontaneous familiarity with beauty and history, experienced not as a weight but as a continuous dialogue with classicism and with a multilayered, polyphonic idea of creativity.

I think in Rome Valentino found . . . an effortless beauty: a form of beauty that is both ancient but constantly renewed in everyday life.

Massimiliano Gioni

Q. Do you see any connection between Rome and Doha?

Gioni: I always joke that if there is one place where Rome can be built in a day, that is certainly Doha: the way in which Doha has embraced the future, the way in which it has decided to rebuild itself is absolutely exceptional. And in Doha this commitment to the future co-exists with a constant reflection on its own origins and histories.

Without wanting to simplify too much, and without wanting to create hazardous comparison, one can say that Doha is certainly at the center of multiple nexuses of power and influences nowadays, as it’s placed at the crossroads between the Middle East, Asia and Europe. And it has made a conscious effort to look at culture and art as languages that can bring people together, a place where people from different languages and cultures can meet.

Massimiliano Gioni is Artistic Director at the New Museum in New York City.