Mark Lombardi (March 23, 1951 – March 22, 2000) was an American neo-conceptual artist who specialized in drawings that document alleged financial and political frauds by power brokers, and in general "the uses and abuses of power".
Education and early career
Lombardi was born in the town of Manlius, New York, just outside Syracuse, New York. He majored in art history at Syracuse University, and graduated with a B.A in 1974. While still an undergraduate, Lombardi had a job as chief researcher for a 1973 art exhibit Teapot Dome to Watergate – a multimedia collage, all of whose elements focused on various US governmental scandals; it was motivated by the then-ongoing Watergate scandal. In 1975, James Harithas (the former director of the Syracusan Everson Museum) hired Lombardi to be an assistant curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Texas, where Harithas had become director. Lombardi worked there for approximately two years, until 1976. While in Houston, he also opened a small art gallery, "Square One". Then, he became a general reference librarian for the Fine Arts department in the Houston Public Library, started a regional artist archive, and wrote two books, one on the drug wars and another on the neglected and forgotten art genre of panoramas. During this time, Lombardi was also an abstract painter of no particular note; he pursued painting as a hobby during his actual career as an archivist and reference librarian.
Six years before his death, Lombardi switched to the pencil diagrams of crime and conspiracy networks that he would become best known for. In the early 1990s, he began researching the many scandals of the time, including the BCCI scandal, the Harken Energy scandal, and the Savings and Loan scandal. The thousands of index cards that he accumulated in the course of this research began to overwhelm his ability to deal with them, and to cope, Mark began assembling them into physical outlines, and then into hand-written diagrams. These were intended to be a tool, to provide focus to his work, but he "...soon decided that this method of combining text and image in a single field (called a drawing, diagram or flow chart, whichever you prefer) really worked for me in other ways as well." This decision was spurred, according to Lombardi, while he was talking with a friend about one of the participants in the Iran–Contra scandal, Adnan Khashoggi. Regarding this conversation, Lombardi wrote "I began taking notes, then sketching out a simple tree chart, showing the breakdown of Kashoggi's American holdings. Within days, I began making more of these charts, depicting other corporate networks I had researched. I was writing several pieces at the time and found the charts a useful, quick reference to the material at hand."
Initially, as the subject of one of his manuscripts, the primary focus was on the drug wars, but because of Pete Brewton's January 1990 newspaper series about the Houston S&L scandal, in which Brewton alleged that the Bush family, CIA members, and Mafia members took part in a de facto conspiracy to steal vast sums of money, Lombardi shifted his emphasis to investigating the laundering of the stolen money. The scandals were not a completely abstract pursuit: the husband of a former classmate was involved in the incidents; when he disappeared, the only portion of his body recovered was his jawbone.
Lombardi divorced in October 1996, and moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn at the urging of his friend Fred Tomaselli. There, he participated in a group show at the Drawing Center, called Selections: Winter 1997, followed by two solo art shows: Silent Partners, shown in November 1998 at Pierogi 2000 in Brooklyn, and Vicious Circles, a work drawing upon Jonathan Kwitny's book of the same name dealing with Mafia involvement in the legitimate commercial markets, shown in 1999 at the Devon Golden Gallery in Chelsea. He also participated in another group show, Greater New York: New Art in New York Now in February 2000 at the P.S. 1 art gallery.
In March 2000, on the day before his death, Lombardi moved all his work to Pierogi 2000. He then bolted his apartment from the inside and hanged himself, on the day before his birthday and three years after he had moved to Williamsburg.
Lombardi called his diagrams Narrative Structures. They are structurally similar to sociograms – a type of graph drawing used in the field of social network analysis, and to a lesser degree by earlier artists like Hans Haacke. Other important influences on Lombardi were philosopher Herbert Marcuse, and visualization expert Edward Tufte.
Robert Hobbs, one of the independent curators who organized and wrote the explanatory prose for "Global Networks", corroborates that both the FBI and Homeland Security were interested in the drawings.
In Lombardi's historical diagrams, each node or connection was drawn from news stories from reputable media organizations, and his drawings document the purported financial and political frauds by power brokers.
Robert Hobbs, who curated a Global Networks, and who face the overwhelming task of fact-checking Lombardi said of the artist's visual method:
"Certain things that are listed in the drawing are in red. These represent court judgments, actual dollar amounts. That is verifiable information. And I think that Lombardi himself realized that not everything could be verified. So I think what you have instead is names. We know about connections of names. Exactly what is that connection is hard to characterize. So that is a line with an arrow in one direction, or an arrow in two directions. So it's really the abstract component of the work of art. It's what can be represented, and--really--what cannot be represented."
For instance, his 1999 drawing "George W. Bush, Harken Energy, and Jackson Stephens, ca 1979–90" shows alleged connections between James Bath, the Bush and bin Laden families, and business deals in Texas and around the world. Following Lombardi's suicide in 2000, the book Mark Lombardi: Global Networks was written in conjunction with a traveling exhibit. The editors chose to incorporate into the cover artwork (see image at right) a detail from "George W. Bush, Harken Energy, and Jackson Stephens, ca 1979–90", showing George W. Bush (on the back cover of the book) and Osama bin Laden (in the upper left of the front cover) separated by one step from each other in the network, via Bath; the same connection between Bush and bin Laden was also highlighted in a 2003 Boston Globe article that described the FBIs interest in Lombardi's works immediately following the September 11 attacks of 2001.
Other subjects that interested Lombardi and were covered in his works include:
- Chicago Outfit
- Meyer Lansky
- The P2 conspiracy, Michele Sindona, Roberto Calvi
- World Finance Corporation
- Nugan Hand Ltd.
- Gerald Bull, Project Babylon, Space Research Corporation
- Iran–Contra, Lake Resources of Panama and Oliver North
- Global International Airways and the Indian Springs State Bank
- The Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and the arming of Saddam Hussein
- Charles Keating, Lincoln Savings (a subsidiary of American Continental Corporation)
- BCCI and ICIC
- Harken Energy Scandal, George W. Bush, James R. Bath, and Jackson Stephens
- Hans Kopp, Shakarchi Trading AG
- United Press International, and its attempted takeover by Pat Robertson with the aid of Beurt Servaas.
- Jackson Stephens, the Lippo Group, and Bill Clinton; also, Clinton, the Lippo Group, and China Ocean Shipping Co.
A major exhibit of Lombardi's art, "Mark Lombardi: Global Networks," was organized by Independent Curators International and curated by Robert Hobbs. The exhibit traveled to nine museums over 2003–2005, and has been the subject of several reviews. The exhibit catalog was published by Independent Curators in 2003.
Several of Lombardi's works were included in a 2010 show, NineteenEightyFour, hosted by the Austrian Cultural Forum New York. A re-exhibition of his work was held at the Pierogi Gallery in 2011 which, in addition to his drawings, included his bookshelf and a vitrine displaying some of his reference materials, as well as a 1996 video of Lombardi interviewed by Andy Mann.
20 of Lombardi's drawings are in the permanent collection of MoMA. Another 10 of his drawings are at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and were the subject of an FBI investigation after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
In 2012, German director Mareike Wegener released a documentary on Lombardi, entitled Mark Lombardi: Death-Defying Acts Of Art And Conspiracy. The movie premiered in May 2012 in Germany and the Brooklyn Film Festival, and then opened in September at MoMA in New York. Reviewers of the movie suggested that, unlike Lombardi's own work, it relies too much on innuendo and too little on factual information, and that it focuses too much on testimonials from friends and does not adequately explain the impact of Lombardi's art.
- Rosenberg, Karen (August 20, 2010), The Lights of Big Brother’s Eyes, Blinking in the City, The New York Times.
- Dannatt, Adrian (May 16, 2000), Obituary: Mark Lombardi (subscription required), The Independent.
- Smith, Roberta (March 25, 2000), Mark Lombardi, 48, an Artist Who Was Inspired by Scandals, New York Times.
- Art in review: Mark Lombardi, 'Silent Partners', Pierogi 2000, New York Times, December 25, 1998.
- Hobbs, Robert Carleton; Richards, Judith (2003). Mark Lombardi: Global Networks. Independent Curators International. ISBN 0-916365-67-0.
- Hobbs, Robert (2003). Excerpt from Global Networks catalog discussing the influence of Edward Tufte on Lombardi posted at Tufte's website.
- "The 'Conspiracy' Art of Mark Lombardi: Late Artist's Swirling Diagrams Chart Scandalous Relationships". NPR. November 1, 2003. Retrieved 6 November 2013. You talked about the FBI agent who came to look at Lombardi's work after 9/11, yesterday [before the opening of posthumous Lombardi show "Global Networks"], Yesterday members of homeland security asked to come and see the exhibition before it opened. Having a work of art that a government agency is looking at to verify certain facts is incredibly fascinating. They were intrigued by how Lombardi was presenting and dealing with the information.
- Glenn, Joshua (December 7, 2003), Conspiracy so immense, Boston Globe. Review of "Global Networks" at the Drawing Center, New York, 2003.
- Heartney, Eleanor (October 26, 2003), The Sinister Beauty of Global Conspiracies, New York Times. Review of "Global Networks" at the Drawing Center, New York, 2003.
- Bigge, Ryan (Fall 2005), Making the Invisible Visible: The Neo-Conceptual Tentacles of Mark Lombardi, Left History 10.2: 127–134. Review of "Global Networks" at Art Gallery of Ontario, 2004.
- Parcelli, Carlo (Spring 2007), Mark Lombardi: Global Networks (book review), Flashpoint.
- Neyenesch, Cassandra (April 2011). "Mark Lombardi: Index". The Brooklyn Rail.
- Baker, R. C. (March 2, 2011). "Mark Lombardi's World Conspiracy, Corruption, and Vatican Hit Men: Pierogi hosts an overview of the artist's career". The Village Voice..
- Chayka, Kyle (March 9, 2011). "Mark Lombardi’s Information Art". Hypoallergenic..
- Holdings of Lombardi artwork in MOMA, retrieved 2012-04-14.
- Mark Lombardi 1951–2000, Whitney Museum of American Art, retrieved 2012-04-14.
- Neary, Lynn; Hobbs, Robert (November 1, 2003), The 'Conspiracy' Art of Mark Lombardi: Late Artist's Swirling Diagrams Chart Scandalous Relationships, National Public Radio.
- Sutton, Benjamin (May 15, 2012), New Doc Examines the Life and Death of Artist Mark Lombardi, Drawer of Sinister Infographics, ArtInfo.
- Brooks, Katherine (September 14, 2012), Mareike Wegener's 'Mark Lombardi: Death-Defying Acts Of Art And Conspiracy' Opens At MoMA, Huffington Post.
- Henely, Kalvin (September 12, 2012), Mark Lombardi: Death-Defying Acts of Art and Conspiracy, Slant Magazine.
- Rapold, Nicolas (September 12, 2012), Movies: An Artist Who Delineated the Money, New York Times.
- Friedman, Alon (2012), "Mark Lombardi’s visualisation discovery", in Hohl, Michael, Making visible the invisible: art, design and science in data visualisation, Huddersfield, England: University of Huddersfield, pp. 12–16, ISBN 978-1-86218-103-8.
- Law, Jessica M. (2012), Mark Lombardi's "Narrative Structures": The Visibility of the Network and the New Global Order, Master's thesis, College of Fine Arts of Ohio University.
- Loustau, Nathalie Casemajor (2013), Les topographies du pouvoir de Mark Lombardi : l’œuvre dans la carte [Mark Lombardi’s Topographies of Power: The Work in the Map], Espace Sculpture (in French), 103-104: 12–16.
- Zdebik, Jakub (2011), Networks of Corruption: The Aesthetics of Mark Lombardi’s Relational Diagrams, Revue d'art canadienne / Canadian Art Review 36 (2): 66–77.
- "Initial report on digitally researching the network drawings of Mark Lombardi", Tolksdorf 2013
- Richard, Frances (2002). "Obsessive – Generous: Toward a Diagram of Mark Lombardi", Wburg.com, Vol. 2, #2, Winter 2001–2002 issue. Reduced version of article included in the Global Networks catalog.
- Mark Lombardi Artist Page at Pierogi Gallery
- "Learning from Lombardi" – Benjamin Fry
- "Lombardi Networks: Towards the complete Mark Lombardi digital"