Mareike Wegener, Mark Lombardi: Death-Defying Acts of Art and Conspiracy, 2011, HD video, color, 79 minutes.

MAREIKE WEGENER’S PORTRAIT Mark Lombardi: Death-Defying Acts of Art and Conspiracy takes its title from the business cards that the late artist dispensed, giggling, at parties and openings. True to his self-conferred epithet, Lombardi was at once artist and sleuth, striving to distill the unseen, ubiquitous networks of power and corruption that structure our world. Wegener limits her scope to the series for which Lombardi is best known: his Narrative Structures (1994–2000), large-scale compositions of small circles and sweeping arrows, at once restrained and confoundingly dense, that furnish a visual catalogue of the international intrigues that rocked the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s.

The film proceeds largely through interviews with those who circulated in Lombardi’s Brooklyn-based milieu: his dealer, artist friends, and erstwhile girlfriend. A trip upstate to Lombardi’s childhood home affords screen time to his parents and siblings, whose emotions ring at a much lower pitch than his. Through such encounters, Lombardi emerges as a man possessed of a monomaniacal zeal for information, his graphite panoramas as much an effort to condense the workings of global politics as they are an attempt to depict the frenetic movements of his mind.

Lombardi himself features in grainy, saffron-hued footage, shot with a handheld camera by an unnamed interloper in his Williamsburg studio. Here, we see him charting an idiosyncratic schema of lines—alternately straight and looping, solid and dotted—with the tools of an architect: pencil, eraser, straightedge, and curves. As clusters of names and dates resolve into diffuse constellations of malfeasance, each fact returns to a single index card, traversed by Lombardi’s handwritten citations. These glimpses of the artist at work make the dual immensity and hermeticism of Lombardi’s ambition clear. His was an attempt to ascertain the present-day “order of things” through books and newspaper clippings, the figures he so fastidiously trailed the denizens less of flesh than of indices and footnotes.

Conceived on so grand a scale, Lombardi’s drive to complete the circle could never be sated. The more connections he uncovered, the more remained to be found. His networks proved equal parts involuted and asymptotic, continually approaching, but never attaining, closure. Attentive to the tensions inherent to Lombardi’s project, Wegener’s film shows his drawings for what they are: charged meditations on the pendent, unresolved nature of knowledge.

Courtney Fiske

Mark Lombardi: Death-Defying Acts of Art and Conspiracy runs September 13–18 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.