Of Friendsters and Foes

The conspiracy art of Mark Lombardi: Crime-fighting tool—or 'just here to help'?

When you can count nearly half a million people as your friends, your social circle ceases to have a recognizable shape. The absurdity of scale is another parallel between Friendster and Lombardi's drawings, especially the monumental works like BCCI, ICIC & FAB. A financial scandal this huge is no longer a scandal, strictly speaking; it's a way of life. Unlike TIA, Friendster never resolves into a gestalt, never exposes an "underlying rationale." Rather than betraying an a priori, deep structure it expands rhizomatically into a contingent structure of its own based solely on temperament and loose affiliation. Similarly, Lombardi's drawings are shapeless, infinitely extensive webs of innuendo.

Curiously, in the last year of his life, Lombardi created a series of works that suggest he was leaning toward a more Platonic conception of the networks his research had uncovered. In these pieces, the pattern of lines resolves clearly into perfect or near perfect spheres. By indicating the existence of a unifying gestalt, Lombardi edges toward the conception of networks articulated by the philosopher and theologist Teilhard de Chardin. Credited by some with conceiving the Internet avant la lettre, Teilhard postulated a kind of global consciousness that he called the Noosphere. Recently, followers of his theories have launched the Global Consciousness Project, a worldwide effort that draws on the Internet's extraordinary capability for synthesizing vast amounts of information drawn from remote locations. Computers worldwide feed into a central database information concerning human behaviors on a massive scale (e.g., strikes, armed conflicts) and attempt to measure a cause-and-effect relation—energetically speaking—among them. Their efforts are intended precisely to discern the kind of background pattern revealed in so many of Lombardi's final works.

For some, Mark Lombardi is the natural inheritor of Hans Haacke's distinguished mantle. In the early 1970s, Haacke (who appeared with me recently on a Drawing Center panel concerning Lombardi's work) pioneered a no-frills approach to using art as a means to analyze the complex, money-infused relationships among individuals, corporations, and institutions. Haacke's works of this period combined texts, photographs, and diagrams to create evidentiary-like displays. These two artists have much in common, to be sure, and yet something in Lombardi's work exceeds Haacke's straightforward approach. Curiously, it was during the past several weeks, while installing the Whitney's mid-career survey of John Currin's idiosyncratic figurative paintings that I began to sense that here was perhaps a more apt comparison. Currin, like Lombardi, enjoys telling us both more and less than we need to know: His models may be super-abundantly sexy, but their eyes are dangerous black holes. Is it possible that Lombardi's drawings really have more to do with the Mannerist excesses and creepy lacunae of Currin's paintings than they do with the methodical investigations of Haacke to which they are so often compared? I suspect that Lombardi falls someplace in between the two—a place that is difficult to imagine but that, in its very incongruity, may be emblematic of our complicated times.

Only connect: a detail from one of Lombardi's creations
image: Courtesy the Drawing Center
Only connect: a detail from one of Lombardi's creations

Lawrence Rinder is the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Curator of Contemporary Art at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

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