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Forwarded to me by Terri Lonier, an account of the Mark Lombardi
exhibit that's been travelling the country. Ed
> The Sinister Beauty of Global Conspiracies
> October 26, 2003
> By ELEANOR HEARTNEY
> Conspiracy theories are a grand old American tradition -
> the mother of them all being the speculation surrounding
> President John F. Kennedy's assassination. In the
> entertainment field, paranoia sells - from the novels of
> Tom Clancy to the <object.title class="Movie"
> idsrc="nyt_ttl" value="162748">"X-Files"</object.title> to
> an endless series of Hollywood blockbusters. After
> pornography, among the most visited sites on the Internet
> are those devoted to conspiracies.
> But what if it's all true? The conspiracy industry, with
> its mostly unproved if not unprovable charges of vast webs
> of shadowy operatives, secret political alliances and
> illicit money channels, has been given a boost by recent
> events. The Sept. 11 attacks provided a glimpse into a
> world of loosely bound international terrorist cells while
> inspiring a host of wild charges about the secret
> involvement of the United States and other governments. The
> Enron scandal uncovered a network of off-the-books
> partnerships, and, more recently, the director Michael
> Moore announced that his next documentary, "Fahrenheit
> 911," would delve into connections between the Bush and bin
> Laden families.
> Mark Lombardi would not have been surprised, as can be seen
> in "Global Networks," an exhibition of his delicate
> filigree drawings that map his version of the flow of
> global capital. The show opens on Saturday at the Drawing
> Center in SoHo and remains on view through Dec. 17. In
> these works, solid and broken lines, circles and squiggles
> enmesh the names of organizations and individuals in webs
> of often surprising interconnections. One drawing charts
> the workings of the Vatican Bank, in the process linking
> its directors to the Mafia and the illegal transport of
> Another purports to show how Iraq was armed in the 1980's
> through a secret scheme supposedly involving the top levels
> of the American and British governments and Italy's largest
> bank, the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro. Yet another follows
> the course by which the Bank of Commerce and Credit,
> International (B.C.C.I.) was accused of having become a
> funnel for a variety of illegal operations, including
> laundering drug money, supporting the Iran-Contra operation
> and backing Afghan Mujahedeen fighters.
> Lombardi died, a suicide, at 48 in March 2000. (Conspiracy
> theories notwithstanding, those closest to him cite a
> series of personal reversals.) Since then, his work has
> attracted a growing body of admirers. One of them is Robert
> Hobbs, a professor of art history at Virginia Commonwealth
> University and the curator of this exhibition, which was
> organized under the auspices of Independent Curators Inc.
> Mr. Hobbs first encountered Lombardi's work through a
> review in Art in America magazine in June 1999.
> Immediately, he was impressed by its sheer beauty, by the
> delicacy of the curving lines, delineating abstract force
> fields created by the global movement of money. He
> describes the works variously as webs, rhizomes and
> constellations. "It was a mental and visual seduction," he
> Mr. Hobbs was also intrigued that the drawings showed only
> a sliver of a larger, inaccessible reality. "The drawings
> exist," he said, "between what is known - the people, the
> organizations, the court judgments - and the unknown, which
> is what is between them. In that sense, they are about the
> difference between the ideal and the real."
> Mr. Hobbs never got a chance to meet the artist. But after
> hearing of Lombardi's death, he resolved to do something to
> bring the work to a larger audience. This turned out to be
> a job of monumental proportions. Along with a studio full
> of complex, meticulously delineated drawings, Lombardi left
> behind a file of 14,500 index cards with information on the
> subjects of his investigations, all drawn from publicly
> available sources. His tiny studio also contained hundreds
> of books on art, politics, banking, history and espionage
> that had served as source material for his charts.
> In order to prepare the catalog for this show, Mr. Hobbs
> had to tease out as best he could the factual underpinnings
> of each work. "In the end," he said, "I had to produce my
> own reading of them. I'm just suggesting one set of
> narratives, but there are probably many others."
> What kind of artist devotes his life to ferreting out
> global conspiracies? Joe Amrhein, director of the Pierogi
> Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has represented
> Lombardi's work since 1998. He is quick to distance
> Lombardi from the Hollywood stereotype of the crazy
> conspiracy theorist. "He was not a paranoid," he said. "He
> was not a negative person." Nor, Mr. Amrhein said, did
> Lombardi have a political ax to grind. He noted wryly that
> "you probably need to have less understanding about the
> connections to be political."
> Instead, Mr. Amrhein said, "he was just completely
> fascinated by connections, how one thing led to another,
> how the C.I.A. would back a coup in Australia, someone
> would be murdered in Turkey and things would happen in
> LOMBARDI, who had a background in art history and worked at
> various times as a reference librarian, a curator and a
> researcher, initially conceived of his drawings as an
> adjunct to his unpublished writings on complex events like
> the Reagan drug war and the savings and loan crises.
> Eventually, he realized that the drawings were the real end
> product of his research. At the time of his death, he was
> beginning to gain some attention in the art world,
> receiving favorable notice for his solo shows and
> invitations to appear in important group shows.
> Since his death, he has received other kinds of notice as
> well. After an article about Lombardi's work appeared in
> The Wall Street Journal, several people called the Pierogi
> Gallery to inquire about buying not the drawings but the
> collection of index cards. And in October 2001, an F.B.I.
> agent showed up at the Whitney Museum, where Lombardi's
> drawing "BCCI-ICIC-FAB, c. 1972-1991 (4th Version),
> 1996-2000," which is in the museum's permanent collection,
> was on view, to examine it for information on Al Qaeda's
> financial network.
> Mr. Hobbs suggested that a renewed global awareness
> following Sept. 11 has intensified interest in Lombardi's
> work. "The real import of Mark's work may not be understood
> for years," he said. "He presented us with the image of a
> vast reservoir of money outside international boundaries
> and limits. He gave us a picture of something we haven't
> seen before."
> Mr. Amrhein put it a little differently: "His work shows us
> that these things are always going on. People just forget
> about them from time to time."
> Eleanor Heartney is an art critic living in New York.
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