Marcelino Stuhmer

Chicago Cultural Center

John Frankenheimer’s 1962 thriller The Manchurian Candidate depicts the brainwashing of captured American soldiers during the Korean War, with one soldier programmed to become an assassin. It’s an eerie tale of enemies without and within that hinges on the insecure integrity of self. The validity of the story was enhanced when, a year after the film’s release, a former GI who had lived behind the Iron Curtain was accused of assassinating President Kennedy. A pivotal scene in the film depicts the group of soldiers seated at what they are brainwashed into believing is a garden party, in America, at which a group of matronly ladies listen to a lecture about hydrangeas—a scene that the soldiers later individually revisit in dreams with horrific glimpses into the reality of their situation.

Shifting snippets, visual and auditory, in Frankenheimer’s 360-degree pan around the room reveal that the soldiers are actually seated on the stage of a kind of operating theater in which their Communist handlers demonstrate complete control over them, even directing the prisoners to kill one another. The scene is re-created in Marcelino Stuhmer’s panoramic painting, The Recurring Dream, 2007–2008. While panoramas most often represent an attempt to create a unified environmental illusion, Stuhmer’s demonstrates how painting, like film, might have the ability to suggest place and develop narrative over time. His panorama begins and ends with a depiction of the soldiers on their stage, and in twenty-seven overlapping rectangular images painted on the black curved interior walls of his mini-pavilion, he generally follows the flow of the film, left to right, depicting the unfolding of a dream sequence. Painted in a blurry, primarily wet-on-wet grisaille (the film, too, is in black and white) with hints of blue and lavender, the images show the ladies at one point sharing space with the captors, the fissures in the soldiers’ brainwashing beginning to surface, as the setting changes from garden party to laboratory.

But what Frankenheimer can do with a slow camera pan and music, Stuhmer cannot reproduce. The construction of representational painting as a frozen, silent moment is actually reinforced by this project, and narrative in painting as, conventionally, a matter of sequential images is also maintained. But Stuhmer’s slowing of time, his presentation of painting as linked film stills rather than as film intensifies the narrative, making it iconic, offering it as a disembodied loop, impossible to see all at once yet capable of being broken down into isolated component parts.

Character actor Henry Silva plays a supporting role in The Manchurian Candidate, first as a Korean double agent who lures the soldiers toward their capture and later as the houseboy who monitors the assassin. Five paintings from Stuhmer’s series “The Silva Screen,” 2007–2008, revisit the concept of malleable identity by depicting Silva, who is of Hispanic/Italian descent, in film roles manifesting his extraordinary ethnic flexibility. Again using diffusion, suggestive of degraded videotape or poor TV reception, Stuhmer alludes to Silva’s film roles as an Italian mobster, a Japanese crime lord, a Native American gunslinger, and the Korean in Frankenheimer’s film, and, to a fictional role that Stuhmer invents for him, as a Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan. Even in a moment of heightened interest in the idea of our own multiple and shifting identities, this range is remarkable, an investigation of Hollywood movies as a kind of collaborative and cooperative brainwashing that might be as brief as the length of the film but could also offer deeper and potentially permanent ramifications.

James Yood