"Both Warren [Buffett] & I insist on a lot of time being available almost every day to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. We read and think. So Warren and I do more reading and thinking and less doing than most people in business." - Charlie Munger

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mark Lombardi, I have never forgotten you.

(click on images for photo sources)

Contemporary Art is something I know relatively little about, but have recently begun to think about more often. I do have two simple rules (aside from simply liking the artwork) that I will follow if/when I decide to invest in a work of art:

1. The work of art must be distinguishable or recognizable, i.e. upon seeing it, one has a very good idea of the artist who created it. In other words, it should have name-brand quality. (some artists whose works, aside from being prohibitively pricey for me, perfectly exemplify this quality are Andy Warhol, Andreas Gursky, & Takashi Murikami)

2. The work of art must be big, i.e. large in size. If it were to hang in a museum, it would not look small or out of place.

The reasoning behind my criteria is simple. (First of all, when I say
'invest' in art, I mean buying art in the interest of seeing its value increase.) In this globalized economy, the end-users for all of the most valuable works of art are ultimately museums, and massive new museums are being constructed in rapidly emerging markets around the world, e.g. throughout the United Arab Emirates, China & Russia... and what will fill them? My assumption is: Name-brand art that is large in size!

When I was in Dubai recently, I saw a model of Saadiyat Island, which will be home to Dubai's new cultural center. The architects hired to build the Guggenheim and Louvre museums on the Island were not local UAE architects, but internationally reknowned "name-brand" architects, Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel respectively. My guess is that, when it is time to fill the walls in these gargantuan museums, the strategy will be consistent.

OK, now let me get to my REAL POINT FOR THIS POSTING

Many years ago, when I was living in New York, I had a meeting with a highly-recommended art dealer who introduced me to the works of Mark Lombardi, an artist whom, I was told, had committed suicide a few years prior. I was completely struck by his works of art: they were so unique, thought-provoking, multi-dimensional and beautiful. Ever since then, every time I am in an art-related setting or conversation, my mind immediately wanders back to the works of Mark Lombardi. Clearly, his artwork had a profound impact on me.

Lombardi's work is often referred to as "Conspiracy Art".

According to Wikipedia: "Mark Lombardi (1951 – March 22, 2000) was an American Neo-Conceptualist and an abstract artist who specialized in drawings attempting to document financial and political frauds by power brokers, and in general 'the uses and abuses of power."

To create his work, Lombardi would reportedly embark on extensive investigatory missions, reading tons of published accounts related to specific conspiracies, and, using tens of thousands of scribbled-on index cards as layout guides, he would piece together the facts into explanatory diagrams. The result was Lomardi's artwork (pictured above this posting): profoundly beautiful webs depicting connections between people and events, where specific line shapes and pencil colors represent varying levels of intensity and/or involvement. The narrative of conspiracy underlying all of these diagrams is the ultimate impact.

Just to give you an idea of how specific these works were, here is the title of one of them:
"Banco Nazionale del Lavoro, Reagan, Bush, Thatcher, and the Arming of Iraq"

Please note: I am not ignoring the fact that it is quite suspicious that a person who was becoming famous for visibly documenting conspiracies (like the Iran-Contra affair) naming real people and interactions, killed HIMSELF-- but that's really none of my business

Today, where the term 'network' is ubiquitous, and where citizens in countries all over the world are joining forces en masse to topple authoritarian regimes on the basis of uncovered conspiracies, to me, the appeal of Lombardi's artwork is still strong as ever.

UNFORTUNATELY, although Lombardi's work does satisfy all of my main criteria, I don't necessarily think that buying Mark Lombardi's pieces is a wise investment, however badly I would like that to be. (Please share with me if you disagree, because I would love to be enticed to believe otherwise). Here are my reasons for assuming this:

1. ALL of his works are graphite and/or pencil on paper, which usually means that the artist would not be considered 'top-rate' museum quality. It is easy to make an argument against this in his case, but it's still a concern.
2. Conspiracy theorizing offends people, especially people who are named in the works, or related to those named in the works. (He did happen to call out some pretty 'powerful' people).

Not everything has to be a sound investment. I am going to snoop around to see who has some Lombardi inventory on-hand...just out of curiosity.

In case I've gotten you interested, here is a link to an interview about Mark Lombardi, conducted by NPR:


  1. i love the way you go into detail explaining your arguments. you take simple statements and make them really thought provoking. keep it up!