The subtitle of Mareike Wegener’s gallery-destined documentary, Mark Lombardi: Death-Defying Acts of Art and Conspiracy, comes from its titular subject’s business card. As noted by fellow Brooklyn artist Greg Stone in the film, because Lombardi’s hand-drawn diagrams, which provide links between global finance and international terrorism, are so matter of fact and information-heavy, his card may have been the only way you’d know that he was an artist, and not, say, a scholar, librarian (which he was for a time), or F.B.I. agent. But it’s disappointing that, for all the time the film devotes to interviewing artists who knew Mark, this is its biggest insight. Indeed, a lot of what Stone and artists Joe Amrhein and Rafael Vargas-Suarez say about Lombardi is fluffy, giving the impression that, though they’ll gladly boast of having known him, they weren’t actually close. And while it’s tempting to want to read Lombardi’s character into their regional manner and attitudes (Stone and Amrhein mock the Freedom Towers from a bar that looks at the NYC skyline), the archival footage of Lombardi reveals him to be far more somber than their flippant remarks would suggest. Thankfully, the interviews with Lombardi’s parents, his college teacher, and art historian Robert Hobbs are more substantial, with his mother even offering why she thinks his death may not have been a suicide.
If the documentary seems to magnify the mysteriousness of Lombardi’s existence, it also hints that he was just a guy with a passion for researching and organizing information. This duality can also be seen in his work: His info-graphic pieces are loaded with powerful names that may send shivers down your spine (the bin Laden family, George W. Bush, BCCI, etc.), but the connections he drew between them were made based on readily available public information, drawn out in pencil with neat black and sometimes red curves, circles, and dotted lines with minimal text. In other words, his works are more clinical than emotional—evocative of a mind addled with OCD, as opposed to the product of a conspiracy theorist. The doc feels rather catchpenny then, as it favors mysteriousness over facts (even ominous, droning music plays over canvas-sweeping shots of Lombardi’s work), adding up to a film that never really goes deeper than the 2003 NPR story—about how the F.B.I. called the Whitney requesting to see one of the man’s pieces, then currently on display—it references and seems to be inspired from. Ultimately, the documentary just feels like one of those thin, audio-visual supplements on an artist that you casually view as you browse a gallery show. In fact, if I had seen Lombard’s works in person, I might have had the pleasure of following their web of connections at my eyes’ own quiet leisure.