Consumed by what he perceived as a world marked by endless, terrifying connections between political figures and financiers, Mark Lombardi spent the majority of his time scanning through political texts and archiving nuanced information. The result was 14,000 index cards of notes and hundreds of intricate, swooping sketches that, to a layman, appear like muddled, insignificant shorthand or thought bubbles from a crazed conspiracy theorist.
But to those who know the late conceptual artist, Lombardi's work is much more than that. His tangles of interconnecting lines codified contemporary life from Iran-Contra Affairs to the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) fiasco, making the art world his personal laboratory to delve into the underbelly of politics and economics in a way that no other artist, political scientist or investigator had done before. He linked decades of pivotal figures from bankers to statesman to members of terrorist organizations in his celestial drawings, offering a new visual language to digest a highly tethered universe.
Mareike Wegener, a German documentary filmmaker and artist, pays homage to the king of political theories in her most recent film, "Mark Lombardi: Death-Defying Acts Of Art And Conspiracy," playing now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The documentary, created in the vein of old political thrillers, recounts the tenuous period of the 1990s, when the artist's obsession with information seemed to be at its peak. The 79-minute work involves one-on-one interviews with friends and family of Lombardi interspersed with news clips, images of the artist's massive diagrams, and sparse footage of the enigmatic man himself. It's less a biography of Lombardi -- who passed away in 2000 at the age of 48 -- and more a portrait of his art-making, focusing on the elaborate methodology of a creator, social commentator and paranoid urban resident whose business card advertised "Death-Defying Acts of Art and Conspiracy."
The film certainly leaves something to be desired. After watching the piece, you'll still wonder how to interpret the mad scientist's data; how to make sense of these disparate thoughts. Ultimately, you'll be left pondering Lombardi's psychological state, his ideological hang-ups and his will to live in a world that seemed to drive him to the brink of insanity. The film also fails to transmit Lombardi's real impact on the world, beyond those who knew him personally.
It might have been tempting for Wegener to address these mysterious black holes in Lombardi's story, but even the documentarian, with her extensive research and hours of first-hand interviews, would likely have been unable to give us sufficient answers. Lombardi, like his eccentric world views, is best outlined without a real narrative. And so, in no subtle way, Wegener mimics the visual language of the late artist, providing us with a barrage of information that one must actively seek to piece together. It's this impressive quality -- the ability to meaningfully reprocess information in the realm of art -- that we walk away appreciating after the lights come on.
Mareike Wegener's "Mark Lombardi: Death-Defying Acts of Art and Conspiracy" will be showing at MoMA from September 13th until September 18th, 2012.