M. Lombardi, originally uploaded by densitydesign.

A few weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, an FBI agent called the Whitney Museum of American Art and asked to see a drawing on exhibit there. The piece was by Mark Lombardi, an artist who had committed suicide the year before. Using just a pencil and a huge sheet of paper, Lombardi had created an intricate pattern of curves and arcs to illustrate the links between global finance and international terrorism.
Ever since the United States invaded Iraq in what seemed to many a puzzlingly indirect reaction to Al Qaeda’s 9/11 terrorist attacks, questions about the Bush administration’s real motivations have been a matter of debate and speculation. Was the purpose really to spread freedom and democracy, or were there other unacknowledged plans? Many people who knew Lombardi and his work have wished he were still around to connect the dots.

Mark Lombardi (1951-2000) draws on the major political and financial scandals of the day to create large-scale linear diagrams that at first glance look like celestial maps; a closer reading reveals the intricate web of connections that lurk beneath current headlines. From Whitewater to the Vatican Bank, Lombardi uses dotted lines and broken arrows to chart the paths of illicit deals and laundered money, keeping track of it all in a handwritten database of 12,000 index cards. By scrutinizing the mutable boundaries that separate artistic practice from daily life, Lombardi wrings visual poetry out of dirty secrets–the results are a chillingly beautiful guide to the facts of life.

Discovering the shadowy interconnectedness of what you would have thought were totally unrelated people and agencies can induce paranoia, but it is also curiously satisfying; the world starts to make a kind of cosmic sense. Lombardi’s works are near-perfect weddings of aesthetic form and worldly content.

The drawings leave out a lot of information, and they raise as many questions as they answer. Their broad, untouched areas of white paper are metaphorical as well as literal: You have to fill in the blanks for yourself. So the viewer is thrown into a philosophical quandary: Is the truth out there, a discoverable empirical order? Or do we project the truth by means of our own stories and fantasies and according to our aesthetic predilections onto an otherwise chaotic reality?

After 9/11, that philosophical quandary took on a more than theoretical urgency. Lombardi did not predict the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or the US invasion of Iraq, though you get the feeling that had he lived he would not have been surprised by either. What he left for the future was an exemplary method for making sense of the bewildering and scary new world so tragically ushered in by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
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