Introduction to Part 3

By Krieger, Peter | Postmodern Studies, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Introduction to Part 3


Krieger, Peter, Postmodern Studies


Cities are functional structures as well as symbolic and affective networks. neo-baroque literary, film and architectural images of neo-baroque entertainment encode existing urban structures as places where visual or imaginary effects overshadow social and cultural decline. A rhetoric of persuasion embodies typical baroque principles such as transgression of spatial limits, the accelerated metamorphosis of polycentric expressive forms, and an overdose of ornament leading to horror vacui. All this creates what Walter Moser has called ontological instability.

Contradictions abound in contemporary neo-baroque cities in which the art of illusion decorates decrepit environments. neo-baroque event-cities develop permanent visual spectacles. They create complex images that are instrumental in exercising political and economic power (Guy Debord). This new type of city standardizes and de-historicizes specific baroque artistic and architectural forms and reduces them to contemporary visual formulae suited to the generic city (Rem Koolhaas) with its non-places (Marc Augé) that require spectacular symbolic encoding.

The following four essays examine three cities in different frames of media, type, time, and space. All refer to the neo-baroque determinants in Mexico City, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, the last a paradigm of neo-baroque culture. The essays also include the essential models of baroque exuberance and control: Rome and Versailles. Although neo-baroque urban culture is a global phenomenon that has left its traces in China, Australia, and elsewhere, these essays concentrate on the Americas. They were breeding grounds for baroque distortions, especially in the Latino contexts, and in fields of commercialization in the United States.

Peter Krieger examines balustrades, a significant neo-baroque ornamental detail in the Mexican megalopolis-the paradigmatic urban agglomeration today. In this eroding hyperurban setting, the neo-baroque balustrade stands out as an ornamental tool to disguise decay. The ubiquitous balustrade is a standardized transhistorical and transcultural element that stimulates insights about the neo-baroque physiognomy of this and many other contemporary cities in which the recycling of historical forms generates an ornamental spectacle. This recycling does not revive collective historical consciousness (in Mexico, for example, that it is about acculturation to Spanish colonial norms). Instead, it is an emptied, decoded tool used in urban areas of decay, erosion, and selfdestruction. The contemporary success story of neo-baroque ornament has one conceptual, cultural root in Las Vegas' commercial architecture, promoted in the visual mass media. Aesthetic mass education-a new, different form of Learning from Las Vegas (Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour)-corresponds to the mass production and serial distribution of ornamental balustrades.

Monika Kaup's text examines the importance of the baroque from the viceregal period in early 17th century Mexico, to the influential chronicle of Salvador Novo describing Mexico City in the 1940s and 1950s. …

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