Why Did the FBI Want to See Marc Lombardi’s Drawing?

A Strange Story About How Interconnectedness Becomes Art

By Shlomo Maital    

LombardiShortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, an FBI agent visited the Whitney Museum of American Art.   No, he wasn’t on a lunch break and he wasn’t an art lover. He was doing his job. He asked to see a drawing by the artist Mark Lombardi, on exhibit there. 

   Lombardi had tragically committed suicide the year before. Using   a pencil and a huge sheet of paper, Lombardi had created a pattern of curves and arcs to show the links between global finance and international terrorism.  He did this, by reading many books and articles, and by setting up an index card system of some 14,000 individual cards.  All of his intricate drawings were based on meticulous, obsessive research. 

    An example of a typical Lombardi drawing is shown above. 

    A travelling exhibition of Lombardi’s work just opened at New York City’s Drawing Center.

     So – what is art?  Is Lombardi’s drawing art?  Or is it just a systems diagram showing how interconnected the world is?  Or is it both?  Lombardi was deeply troubled and highly obsessive in his research.  Is there a link beween eccentricity and art?   Do artists have to be a bit nutty?  

    Lombardi was apparently deeply influenced by an early job he held.  “While still an undergraduate, Lombardi had a job as chief researcher for a 1973 art exhibit Teapot Dome to Watergate – a multimedia collage, all of whose elements focused on various US governmental scandals; it was motivated by the then-ongoing Watergate scandal.”    He spent his whole life pursuing the resulting obsession, working mostly as an archivist and librarian, an ideal occupation to facilitate his research of interconnectedness that took many thousands of hours. 

   He killed himself one day before his 49th birthday.