MARK LOMBARDI Index

PIEROGI GALLERY | FEBRUARY 25 – MARCH 27

In works like “Bill Clinton, the Lippo Group, and Jackson Stephens of Little Rock, Arkansas 5th Version” Mark Lombardi researched relationships among the world’s most powerful people: politicians, financial manipulators, out-and-out crooks, and laid them out on huge drawings in the form of diagrammatic networks. His compositions are extremely detailed, yet in toto form huge macrocosmic shapes, balls, or clouds, as if to suggest a superstructure holding the conspiracy together. His work, in its simplicity and in its massive display of revelatory fact, is convincing on several levels. It is not uncommon in contemporary art to see flow-charts, graphs, and other tools of social science bent to pseudo-scientific ends; in Lombardi’s case the drawings are actually scientific (in the sense of social science), an effective visual aid to prove a deeply disturbing but no less factual point about the forces that control and manipulate our lives.

The current show at Pierogi is positioned as more of an exploration of Lombardi’s working process than a straightforward retrospective, with a video of Lombardi being interviewed by Andy Mann on constant view, as well as Lombardi’s bookshelf and a vitrine displaying some of his reference materials. Once you’ve looked at the drawings, the bookshelf in particular seems redundant, as the scope of Lombardi’s research is completely legible in his work, which is one thing I like about it. The video is a great choice, however, as it’s satisfying to see Lombardi talk, and to get how extraordinarily well his presentation reflects both what he wants to say and why he wants to say it; that is, the accretion of raw, emotionless data somehow acquires—or betrays—an emotional content that is quite transparent to the viewer. This is in great part because he keeps his medium of expression so simple. There is a deeply upset quality in the very obsessive minimalism of it, the hundreds of tiny, neatly written names, some with comments in red next to them (“arrested in 1985 for fraud”), the arrows shooting off around them in a spider web of connections. It is clear that this man has done an awful lot of research, and one can picture him falling asleep on top of a pile of it like Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men. In fact, he reminds me a little of a Dustin Hoffman with an Upstate accent in his toneless but somehow maniacal description of his work in the video interview, half Carl Bernstein, half Rain Man. (And, weirdly, I discovered after I had this thought that Lombardi did do research for an exhibition on Watergate in 1973.) As he talks about his work as a mode of “coping” with his knowledge of the unseen power of relationships that affect his life, the upset I’ve referred to comes through in precisely the way it does in the work: not as an actual expression of emotion, but of facts; the facts in themselves are enough. He doesn’t try to dress them up with little doodles of evil capitalists or other visual aides, as what he wants to say needs no other hints or nudges for the viewer.

In fact, examining his biography, it was the research that came first or, more accurately, art school gave way to decades of work as a researcher, which merged back into a decision to make these drawings in the late ’80s. It was an interesting choice for Lombardi; it may have driven him over the edge, or it may have kept him with us a little longer. By 2000, in any event, it was too much for him, and the New York art world lost one of its most intelligent eccentrics. The mental force behind his investigations does remind me of some outsiders, the certifiably crazy or contentedly hermetic, the Henry Dargers and Joseph Cornells, who seem to be wandering in the wilderness of their minds. Lombardi had the same kind of haunted compulsiveness, but beset by outer demons.

It’s also interesting to see him talk about the Internet in the video (which was shot in 1996). He describes it as “vexing” because every reference he looks up on the web produces a logarithmic increase of other connections that, obviously, Lombardi was bound to pursue. What he may or may not have anticipated was the potential funny business to emerge out of the Internet itself, all the brand new ways for shady connections to be made and money to be moved around.