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The Baroque D_Effect

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Centre de Cultura Contemporánia de Barcelona,
Nov 09, 2010 - Feb 27, 2011
Barcelona, Spain

The Baroque D_Effect
by Joaquí­n Barriendos


El D_Efecto Barroco greets us with a small screen featuring an open shot of the Spanish Neo-classic interior of the apse gallery designed by Juan de Villanueva in 1786 and now known as Room 12 of the Prado Museum. Different-sized paintings hang on the walls on either side of Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas, located in the geometrical center of the room like an altar. Looking as though he had been there throughout modernity, a man stands motionless in front of the painting looking both like the original model and a contemporary viewer of Velazquez. As the camera moves towards the middle of the room, an exultant but orderly and contained music can be heard in the background. It is strictly classicist music, i.e., of virtuously rational forms in the strictest possible Mozartian terms. As if he was Philip IV returning from the seventeenth century, the man in the background stops gazing at the painting, turns and slowly advances towards us. The man and the camera come together in the middle of the room; at that moment the music fades, not in a contrasting and pathetic way in keeping with the baroque style, but consistently, imperceptibly, as befits classical forms. Las Meninas fades into the background and the man moves into the foreground: it is Felipe de Borbón, Prince of Asturias, who, acting as museum guide and expert in the world history of art, lavishes splendor and significance on the painter from Seville and introduces us to the Velázquez exhibition put on by the Prado Museum in 1990.

How should we interpret these neoclassicist or anti-baroque infiltrations in the opening video of an exhibition that suggests that the baroque is not a style of art or a cultural ethos but a motley, decadent, defective and deceitful way of doing politics, doomed to feed on its own failure and the implementation of culture to ensure the continuity of the myth of ‘lo hispano’? In line with the exhibition’s approach, we should infer that in Hispanic baroque policy all neo-classicism or anti-baroque-ism is a baroque gesture, i.e., a sort of appoggiatura for continuing to dominate and deceive through the management of images, forms, saturation and crossbreeding. El D_Efecto Barroco is thus an account of the Hispanic as an adamant baroque bent on manipulating the political content of form. The neoclassic building that serves as to house our prince guide of the Prado Museum and Velazquez’s painting is shown as being "baroque" not because of the distortion of its forms but because the politics of the baroque seems to make them imperfect and flawed; that is, because its ability to ensure the permanence of an impassioned and flashy way to understand (cultural) politics.

From that point of view, the idea behind El D_Efecto Barroco is suggestive: we are asked to interpret the story of the baroque as the structural mark (i.e., the inherent defect) not only of the politics of the Hispanic image but of the manner of engaging in politics in the Hispanic world (a negative uniqueness in which Spanish cultural policy characterizes by its deformity and theatricality). As the exhibition catalog says: "The baroque was established as a mark of Spanishness due precisely to its capacity for concealing conflict without settling it. And it became an identifying discourse due to its supposed ability to bring about a social integration that has yet to come. Hence there is not a baroque culture, but a baroque policy". Now, what are the consequences of this attempt to eliminate the critical capacity of baroque theatricality so as to dismantle the Hispanic brand, in other words, to overcome its flaws? Into what labyrinth do we fall when we accept that the baroque is an apolitical space or at least is only political in its forms? Does this idea have the same consequences for the baroque viewed from Spain as for the baroque viewed from Latin America?


One way of answering the questions stemming from the adamant baroquethat we perceived as the basis of the exhibition is to address the problem of the Spanish and the Latin American separately rather than through the blender of the Hispanic. Although the Spanish-minded hispanidad (as of the end of the nineteenth century and on both sides of the Atlantic) attempted to turn the ancient issues of being Spanish into a single, identical supranational issue affecting all Hispanics, the dilemma of being a non-Hispanic American was never accepted in Spain as being a Spanish problem. There is a double, asymmetrical directionality here that needs to be taken into account before reaching conclusions on that sort of transatlantic esthetic communion suggested by the ecumenical deformity of the Hispanic baroque. In the exhibition the baroque blurs such asymmetries and seems to operate like an unbreakable umbilical cord that both ties and strangles politics and demos on both sides of the Atlantic. Once again, the catalogue states the following: "Of all the genealogies constructed in Spanish-speaking countries to shape identities and memories, the baroque has been the most enduring, extensive and influential. Ethics and theories of State and culture have made use of the baroque in order to grant what is Spanish a single, exceptional charter: ‘This is who we are.’" That is why, immersed in the narrative of D_Efecto Barroco, the only Ariadne’s thread that can lead us out of the labyrinth (i.e., with which to do away with the deception of the Hispanic image) is to take the baroqueness out of politics. The exhibition’s press release is explicit on this point, even if takes the form of a tongue twister: "The Hispanic world is riddled with the baroque. Who will take the baroqueness out of it? Will who ever removes the baroqueness be a good deHispanicizer?" The political agenda behind the tongue twister is clear and categorical: without taking the baroque out of it there can be no dismantling of the Hispanic myth, it is the sine qua non of an anti-monarchic, anti-spectacular and anti-Spanish policy. Now, if we turn it around and view it from the other side, the hypothesis becomes problematical: criticism of the Hispanic "from" the baroque is destined by default to be vacuous and ornamental, so only if we refuse to be taken in by the fascination of the baroque (as a flawed policy) will the Hispanic lose its raison d’être to give way to less pathological, less deceitful and less distorted forms of government. In the preamble to the exhibition catalogue (and not without a measure of nostalgia for post-1992 Ibero-Americanism) the director of the CCCB shows he is confident in the strategy of overcoming the baroque to foster understanding between Spain and Latin America: "Taking the baroque out of relations between Spain and Latin America might be an excellent way of reaching greater understanding". In other words, it is assumed that we do not understand each other because we are too baroque; we are imperfect monads out of tune with the global concert of economic rationality and political order.

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