A solo exhibition of works by Mark Lombardi at Pierogi gallery in Williamsburg, feels very timely. Maybe I’m into the paranoia-inducing conspiracy charts because New York’s just-ended art fair week, our own glimpse into the vastness of the international art world, reminded me that there are whole webs of infinite complex connections to the worlds and communities we inhabit. Lombardi’s intricate, highly-researched drawings are clear presentations of information that forces us to rethink how we see ourselves in relation to our political atmosphere.
This isn’t just another chance to catch up on the career of a working artist, though. It’s a retrospective look, a reminder of an artist whose path ended tragically with an unexpected suicide in 2000, just as Lombardi was becoming an art world success. The artist’s story is a cautionary tale that goes right along with his work, the immense networks of global political figures, celebrities and shadowy organizations creating an atmosphere of guilt, suspicion and fear.
The main gallery space features a selection of Lombardi’s large drawings along with several preparatory sketches and smaller works. At first glance, the drawings resemble minimalist geometry, with thin, sweeping pencil lines connecting at nodes to form interconnected webs reminiscent of stained-glass windows or an abstract architectural plan. Only upon moving close to the work are the names that these lines connect visible; it’s an aesthetic punch that turns into a conceptual one.
Though the events and people Lombardi tracks in his spiderwebs aren’t making global headlines today, it’s the investigative process that matters, and the shock of recognition that comes with seeing a familiar name. The Clinton family make their appearance in Lombardi’s work, as does the Bushes, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. “Inner Sanctum: the Pope and his Bankers, Michele Sindona and Roberto Calvi ca. 1959-82 (5th version)” documents the scandals surrounding the money managers of Pope John Paul II, including possible murders and cover-ups. “World Finance Corporation and Associates c. 1970-84: Miami, Ajman, and Bogota-Caracas (7th Version)” looks like the rosette of a Gothic cathedral, but its visual beauty is a foil for the dangerous information it represents, charting banking and insurance conspiracies around Florida.
Lombardi called his works “narrative structures,” a term that reflects the schematic nature of the drawings as well as their ability to tell stories through data. This information art comes in the midst of an art world buzz around similar artists whose work parses raw data, examines communities and re-represents them in visually powerful ways. Jen Dalton‘s art world-piercing charts and bar graphs come to mind, as well as Loren Munk’s maps, whose labels and tags recall the lines of Lombardi’s drawings in connecting names, people and places. As investigation and the end result of a larger process of research, the Lombardi exhibition also makes me think of Hans Haacke‘s institutional critique pieces, including his infamous attempt to expose the shady real estate dealings of the Guggenheim’s trustees in an exhibition at that same museum. Lombardi and Haacke work to put themselves outside the context of the insular art world and take on issues that seem insurmountable for a single artist or work.
Since opportunities to see Lombardi’s work are rare, I have a feeling that this exhibition will become a constant reference point in the next few years. Go check it out, and see where you stand in relation to these webs.
Mark Lombardi’s Index is up at the Pierogi Gallery (177 N 9th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) until April 3, 2011.