by Else Marie Bukdahl. Controluce, 2017. 259 p. ill. ISBN 9788792172044 (h/c), $48.00
Reviewed November 2017
The Recurrent Actuality of the Baroque investigates the concept and the presence of the Baroque in the twenty-first century. The author, Else Marie Bukdahl, produces a definition of the Baroque for a new millennium by juxtaposing the scholarship of Walter Benjamin, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Mario Perniola. To begin, Bukdahl provides the etymology of baroque, followed by a brief history of the shift in intellectual ideals between the conclusion of the Renaissance and the birth of the Enlightenment. The author historically defines the Baroque as an era in constant development, struggling to define itself. Bukdahl argues the Baroque continued to evolve, influencing art and ideas of subsequent centuries.
The book’s four chapters, although dense, are arranged in a logical manner and broken down into sections. Bukdahl uses plain language not lacking in detail to ease the reader into a complex topic. Chapters one and two explain basic historical concepts of the art, poetry, and philosophy of the Baroque.
Chapters three and four comprise the bulk of the text in which Bukdahl examines the evolution of the Baroque within the contexts of the intersecting worlds of philosophy, aesthetics, art theory, philosophy, religion, and science. Numerous works by artists ranging from El Greco to Jeff Koons act as a lens to view a society simultaneously fascinated and fearful of the chaos of a changeable world. Split-Rocker by Jeff Koons, a floral sculpture depicting the head of a fantastical half pony and half dinosaur creature, installed in the Orangery Garden in Versailles in 2008, is highlighted to establish links between chaos, order, and aesthetic. Despite the mathematical pattern and the order observed in planting the piece, the large size and the theatricality of the subject create dissonance.
Bukdahl is consistently and necessarily thorough, reiterating the use of the visual as a means to express philosophical discourse and language. The book’s neat conclusion revisits relevant examples and expertly weaves concepts together assuaging the reader. In essence, the opposite of the Baroque.
The physical style and format of the book is comparable to an academic textbook, with numerous color and black and white illustrations. A lengthy bibliography, index, and photo credits are included. The Recurrent Actuality of the Baroque is an important addition to research libraries and academic libraries serving graduate students in art history or philosophy.