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Mark Lombardi

It's easy to mythologize artists who die before their work reaches the widest audience; it's easier still when they, tragically misunderstood, kill themselves. In Mark Lombardi's case, though, one feels that his work is so timely, it is a cosmic conspiracy that he is not around to comment on events since the second George Bush took office. In a traveling exhibition entitled "Global Networks," five pieces of from larger collection of drawings shown in New York have arrived at Yerba Buena.

On slightly yellow paper, using pencil, Lombardi creates loopy money trails, connecting the names of wildly divergent institutions and people by published accounts of financial flow. In "Hans Kopp, Trans K-B and Shakardin" (1999), Lombardi tracks the movement of resources from various Swiss banks to Afghan rebels, Saddam Hussein, and other Middle Eastern figures. The names are handwritten in small, neat print, with swooping arcs of closed and dotted lines joining them. Clearly, the five drawings displayed were chosen for the strange shadow they cast on current events. Lombardi worked throughout the 1990s, passing away before world started looking closely at the connections forged between Al-Qaeda and international monetary funds. Lefties prone to conspiracy theories (like this writer, for example) will find both questions, answers and no small amount of satisfaction in Lombardi's work. His elegant lines put arms dealers, banks, airports and the Bush family on equal footing; they are all parts of a larger economy, where the spoils of war feed political leaders and drug lords alike. In one of the most elaborate drawings, "Meyer Lansky's Financial Network, circa 1960-1978, 4th version" (1996), Lombardi shows that as timely as his Bush-Iraq connectors are, these money webs didn't start in the 1980s. Meyer Lansky is only a few steps away from LBJ and closely connected to more than one Swiss Bank. One can imagine that Lombardi would be well-suited to creating wall-size murals of, say, the Vatican's dealings for the past few centuries or the connections between the Kennedy clan and the Mob.

Separating the aesthetic and the intellectual pleasure of this exhibit would be pointless. A study for a later drawing ("BNL, Reagan, Bush, Thatcher and the Arming of Iraq, circa 1983-91") points out the artistic nature of Lombardi's work. His tidy finished pieces came after sketches like this one, which are filled with erased lines and unevenly spaced names. The form does not come accidentally. You are supposed to take in the information, read the names and the occasional notes, but you are also supposed to enjoy the balance and precision of the pieces. These are drawings as much as diagrams.

And, as if you needed any more reason to check out these works, consider that it wasn't just arty types lining up to see the opening in New York last year. The CIA visited the Soho gallery, taking careful notes on his delicate doodlings.

On display through April 4th
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Hours: Tuesday - Sunday (11 am - 6 pm)

Image: Mark Lombardi, Oliver North, Lake Resources of Panama, and the Iran-Contra Operation, ca. 198486., 1999