I first saw Mark Lombardi’s work during the late 1990s in a group show at The Drawing Center in New York City. I remember being immediately struck by the physical beauty of his drawings: the intricacy of the image; the delicacy and specificity of the line; the elegance of the overall web-like form. I also remember the jolt of excitement I felt when I realized that the labyrinthine arrangements of interconnected nodes and links were diagrams of the complex and often opaque recorded relationships between the rarefied worlds of banking, arms trade, finance, and politics.
Take a close look at Casino Resort Development in the Bahamas c. 1955-89 (fourth version) and Charles Keating–ACC-Lincoln Savings Irvine CA–Phoenix AZ ca. 1978-90 (fifth version), both of which Lombardi completed in 1995. Each of the elements in this web refers to a real person, company, place, or relationship—all based on information that the artist gleaned exclusively from the public record. In their historical accuracy and grand scale, Lombardi’s works allude to the academic tradition of history painting exemplified throughout art history by artists from Raphael to Géricault. From 1994 until his death in 2000, Lombardi created many drawings like the two on view in this exhibition, yet the grand scale of the series takes nothing away from the individual relevance of each drawing. In fact, in some ways, the specificity of the information included in each piece lends a sense of both timeliness and timelessness to the work. These are all the same scandals—just called by different names.
Each time I view Lombardi’s work, I feel like a co-conspirator in Lombardi’s exposé of deceit, cover-ups, and corporate and government malfeasance. I am a voyeur observing Lombardi as he draws; in deciphering and displaying this information, he untangles a knot. The process is slow, painstaking, detailed, and laborious, yet ultimately fulfilling. In viewing these drawings I experience a sort of self-satisfaction, as if I am somehow taking part in the exposé. The corrupt Machiavellian networks and associations that Lombardi reveals are seductive in their complexity and their familiarity.
Language plays an interesting role in Lombardi’s work in terms of both his subject and his image. Words like intrigue, scheme, tangled, and convoluted describe the subject of the drawing but also refer to phrases such as “spinning a web” or “weaving a plot,” which in turn refer to the work as a whole image. This circling around and doubling up of meaning functions in much the same way as Lombardi’s network mapping, creating maze-like scaffolding on which the information rests. Likewise, words like strategy, systems, and hierarchy explain the nature of the content as well as the process by which it is visually organized.
That these “narrative structures” (to use Lombardi’s term) describe the nefarious interactions between myriad political, social, and economic forces does not interfere with the formal beauty of the drawings. Through the quality of the line, each drawing commands attention in a reserved, quiet, self-possessed manner. The images resemble abstractions of celestial diagrams or some form of archaic cartography. The obsessive nature of both research and process is evident; here, the artist acts as a filter for a vast quantity of esoteric data. In the end, the confluence of Lombardi’s single-mindedness and attention to detail, coupled with his subtle and sensitive handling of material and image, ultimately forms the basis of the stories he tells us—narratives that unfortunately never grow old.
Mark Lombardi Biography
Mark Lombardi (b. 1951, Syracuse, NY; d. 2000, Brooklyn, NY) earned his BA in Art History from Syracuse University, New York (1974). As an undergraduate, Lombardi served as Chief Researcher for the exhibition Teapot Dome to Watergate (1973), which prefigured his later drawings inspired by United States government scandals and abuses of power. Lombardi served as Assistant Curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas (1975) before opening a gallery called Square One, Houston, Texas. He then worked as a General Reference Librarian for the Fine Arts Department of the Houston Public Library, where he began a regional artist archive. Recent solo exhibitions featuring his work have been held at Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin (2007); Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, England (2007); De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, England (2007); Hatton Gallery, Newcastle University, England (2007); the Museum of Contemporary Art Leipzig, Germany (2008); and Pierogi, Brooklyn (2011). Recent group exhibitions have been held at James Cohan Gallery, New York (2007); the Queens Museum of Art, New York (2007); the House of World Cultures, Berlin (2007); The Kitchen, New York (2008); Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles (2008); the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin (2009); the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2009); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011); the Sharjah Biennial, United Arab Emirates (2011); the Mercosul Biennial, Porto Alegre, Brazil (2011); and dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012). Director Mareike Wegener produced a documentary on Lombardi entitled Mark Lombardi: Death-Defying Acts of Art and Conspiracy (2012) that premiered in Germany, at the Brooklyn Film Festival, and at The Museum of Modern, New York.
Julie Langsam Biography
Julie Langsam is Assistant Professor at Mason Gross School of the Visual Arts, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is a painter whose work addresses issues of style, beauty, and idealization by combining images that reference the romantic sublime of the nineteenth century and the twentieth century’s utopian ideals of High Modernism. Langsam’s juxtaposition of iconographic architectural structures with backgrounds of broad, big sky landscapes associated with Hudson River School painters alludes to the relationship of the sensuous body with the rational mind. Langsam has had numerous exhibitions, including a solo museum show at Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, Ohio (2002). She is a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award, and is represented in many collections throughout the United States. Recent solo exhibitions have been held at Gallery Thomas Jaeckel, New York, Espai 8, Barcelona, and Reykjavik Art Gallery, Iceland. Among Langsam’s other activities, she is co-curator of such exhibitions as Arte Povera American Style: Funk, Play, Poetry & Labor, Cleveland Institute of Art, Ohio (2002) and It’s a Wonderful Life: Psychodrama in Contemporary Painting, Cleveland: SPACES, Ohio (2004). Langsam is the former Head of Painting and Director of the Kacalieff Visiting Artists & Scholars Endowment, Cleveland Institute of Art, Ohio. More information about her work can be found at http://julielangsam.com/.