In the fateful month of March 2000, shortly after opening a hugely successful show in New York that unveiled the more nefarious financial connections of Presidential candidate George W. Bush, the hugely ambitious Conceptual artist Mark Lombardi was found hanged in his studio, an apparent suicide. With museums lining up to buy his work, and the fame he had sought relentlessly at last within his reach, speculation about whether his death was suicide or murder has titillated the art world ever since. Lombardi was an enigma who was at once a compulsive truth-teller and a cunning player of the art game, a political operative and a stubborn independent, a serious artist and a Merry Prankster, a metaphysicist if not a scientist.
Lombardi's spidery, elusive diagrams describing the evolution of the shadow-banking industry from a decades-old alliances between intelligence agencies, banking, government and organized crime, may have made him unique in art history as the only artist whose primary subject, the CIA, has turned around and studied him and his art work. Exhaustively researched, this is the first comprehensive biography of this immensely contradictory and brilliantly original artist.
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About the Author
Patricia Goldstone has been a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and a bureau chief for Cablevision. She has written for the Washington Post, Maclean's, the Economist Intelligence Unit, and the Abu Dhabi National, among others. She holds a Master's Degree in Literature from Trinity College in Dublin and is the author of Making the World Safe
for Tourism (Yale University Press, 2001) and Aaronsohn's Maps (Harcourt, 2007). She is a national award-winning playwright. She divides her time between New York and Los Angeles.
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ANNOUNCER: I think the Presidential motorcade must be approaching now, because the cheers are growing nearer. It's a beautiful day here in Dallas, despite a light rain, and the people have turned out by the thousands to welcome their leader. President Kennedy's political enemies warned that there would be hostilities and riots, but listen to those cheers! Yes, here is the motorcade, and there's the President's car; we can tell because you can see Mrs. Kennedy's pink dress. They've left the bubbletop off the limousine in spite of the rain so they can see the people and the people can see them, and they love them! The crowd noises are suddenly drowned out by two sharp gunshots. Then silence.
— KENNEDY'S CHILDREN, BY ROBERT PATRICK
Those of us who were children on November 22, 1963, share a vivid memory of seeing adults — our teachers — weep for the first time. Hearing the enforcers of our ordered little world choke and fall silent on the possibility that there was no order and nothing to enforce, nothing to do in fact but to close up shop and send us home to our parents, was somehow more devastating than the assassination itself. It felt like falling off a cliff, into an abyss of anarchy. And, if the president, who was so young and so handsome, so uniquely blessed by the gods of privilege, if the president who made the whole country feel as if it was gliding alongside him in a limousine bubble of American exceptionalism could be shot just like that, how could anyone ever tell us what to do again?
To the playwright Robert Patrick, the son of Texan migrant workers who eventually made his way to the stage of New York's Caffe Cino in its avant-garde heyday, the 70s were the detritus of the 60s. The drug epidemic raging in New York's streets, the quicksand of Vietnam, the "really male, really paranoid, militaristic thing about how the underground was being infiltrated by FBI and CIA men" that stamped the SDS student movement, even the gender-bending of the sexual revolution could all be traced back to the moment in 1963 when the president, the young, sexy, good father of his country, was gunned down through all the protections his enforcers had put in place around him. He would share that vision with another working-class artist, Mark Lombardi, whose upper-class, essentially anarchistic teacher, the iconoclastic museum director Jim Harithas, would reverse Patrick's judgment in calling his most famous student the "idealism of the sixties working through the seventies."
To Patrick, the Age of Aquarius was not a dawning but a giant step backward into a new dark age in which the country which had won the Good War had just suffered the most crushing defeat in its history by forces it suspected to be its own, and youth was governed only, if at all, by a sense of betrayal and abandonment so deep as to make conventional markers of progress — education, profession, marriage, family — not only impossible but absurd. But if Mark Lombardi, age 12 and glued to the black-and-white TV in his parents' basement den in Manlius, New York, on the day of the assassination, felt betrayed or abandoned, he was careful to conceal it. Emotional matters were not discussed in his family, and he was already well on his way to becoming the person his younger sister Lisa would later call "the King of Irony." Unnerving in a child his age, his obsession with the endless details of the Kennedy assassination coverage seemed to those around him to be primarily intellectual, an abstract fascination with the newsgathering process and with the conspiracy theories that swarmed like furies in the wake of the event. For his 13th Christmas, Lisa, 12, would give her adored and hated Pied Piper of a brother a copy of the Warren Commission report that concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, as did Jack Ruby when he killed Oswald before he could stand trial. Mark never finished it because he disagreed with its findings so vehemently.
Behind his staring eyes, a little too wide-set for his otherwise good-looking face, he seemed intent on putting together the pieces of an enormous puzzle. It was a game, and, in the back of his mind, there was already a prize.
From a very early age, Mark wanted to be famous. No one in his family could say why. Some of them suspected that he wanted to distinguish himself from them, and that irritated them almost as much as his conceit in refusing to help around the house. They could not fathom the restlessness of his undirected intellect, fed only by the TV or the John le Carré spy novels that his father loved. When Mark was 12, and his best friend got an IQ score two points higher than his, he threatened to have a nervous breakdown. Yet his grades in school were indifferent. He would work hard only if a subject interested him, like Russian, in which he excelled, or art. But even in art he would not work to overcome his technical deficiencies. He would find a way to change the curriculum instead, to provide himself a means by which he could win.
Behind his eyes, as he parsed the scenes from President Kennedy's funeral on the flickering black-and-white TV in his parents' den, a disturbing equation between fame and dying young was taking shape. It was not altogether unusual for a time — and a political campaign — that marketed the youth of the president unrelentingly. As Patrick puts it in Kennedy's Children: "And the day after Marilyn [Monroe] died, fifty million little boys and girls rose up with one overwhelming, irresistible, indefatigable ambition: to be the next Marilyn Monroe." It would be some years before Mark Lombardi would articulate his admiration of people who either died young or took their own lives: "Live fast, die young." "Don't burn out, flame out." Lisa, to whom he confided his romantic infatuation with easeful death, thought it was creepy. She didn't enquire further because, as was often the case between Mark and Lisa, she didn't want to know the answer.
The Kennedy assassination planted a seed in fertile soil, in a young boy who had been educated by nuns and steeped in the gauzy infatuation with martyrdom and death memorialized by so many Roman Catholic writers with varying degrees of exasperation, affection, and bitterness. Around the time that John F. Kennedy was killed, Mark announced his ambition to be a priest. Lisa, who was one year younger and who walked to confirmation classes with him in the religious school behind their church every afternoon when the normal school day ended, declared her candidacy for the convent. Their vocations lasted until they were confirmed together, but Mark retained a lifelong infatuation for the pope, particularly for John Paul II, born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Poland, who drew audiences as vast and as vociferous as any rock star's as he traveled the world, reproving dictators, slaying the dragon of communism, and lecturing heads of the three major religions on how to get along (a favorite topic for Mark). Even when he was a party boy in the fleshpots of Williamsburg, Mark kept pictures of John Paul on the walls of his dingy, windowless studio. No one who knew Mark could say whether the Pope's image was to inspire him, to hold him from harm, or to oversee his assignations.
For a boy of Mark's temperament, the prosperous township of Manlius (population 32,299), a predominantly white suburb of Syracuse that CNN once rated one of the 100 best places to live in the United States, was a place where something desperately needed to happen. Art historian Robert Hobbs said it reminded him of Jimmy Stewart's small-town American idyll in It's a Wonderful Life. It was almost too idyllic, a 1950s dream of white-shingled houses with American flags out front and deep front porches that melted into the lush upstate New York countryside. There were no back fences, and the kids ran from yard to yard in warring, whooping tribes, into acres of woods where they could play undisturbed for hours. The tribes on the other side of the woods were hostile, and the Lombardi kids would capture them and make them their slaves. In the fall, there were apple wars, fought with catapults and slingshots. Mark, wearing a cape and a crown and sword, would allow Lisa to pull him around in his red wagon as he commanded his troops. He was always in charge of the slaving raids. He was the king.
There was another side of Syracuse that was not so idyllic, a side where the tribes fought their wars across the barricades of ethnicity and culture. Like its near neighbor, Buffalo, Syracuse was inundated with Italian immigrants in the 1880s, when they arrived hungry for the abundant jobs available for those willing to do manual labor. They butted up against the Irish, who had likewise flocked to the area in the 1820s to build the Erie Canal, which made transcontinental transport of Syracuse's chief commodity, salt, cheap and easy. Syracuse grew wealthy exporting most of the salt used in the United States, but when the West Shore Railroad from Weehawken to Buffalo was built in the 1880s, Italian hands did the work. Fayetteville and Manlius, Mark's childhood homes, were built on the flanks of what became known as Tipperary Hill when the Irish settled there in the mid-19th century. When the Italians moved in, the Irish moved out, to the north side of the city. Hydroelectric power from nearby Niagara Falls created an explosion of mills and factories to make up for the decline in commercial salt production in the latter part of the 19th century, but even though jobs were plentiful, there were not enough to prevent often deadly rivalry between the Italians and the Irish, who considered the newer émigrés "unacceptable."
The Lombardis arrived in the 1910s from Abruzzo, a poverty-stricken region of Central Italy with strong historic ties to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Mark's grandparents refused to speak Italian around their children because they wanted them to assimilate. Don Lombardi, Mark's father, grew up without ever having learned it, but by the time he came along his father and uncle were well-established in the sheet-metal business, a tradition in their native village of Collolongho that found ample outlets at the Syracuse Iron Works, the Bessemer Iron Works, the Onandaga Iron Company, the Sanderson Brothers Steel Company, and the Sterling Iron Ore Company, which lined the streets of Fayetteville and Manlius. The Lombardi brothers prospered, employing up to 250 workers at a time when Syracuse was the hub of high-end manufacturing in the state. Automobiles, bathroom fixtures, cans, carriages — virtually everything that had metal in it from typewriters to railroad parts — were manufactured in Syracuse. The Lombardis branched out into construction and eventually won the contract for all the ductwork and siding at the Nine Mile atomic plant in Oswego. Once they rose in the world, the pain and the sacrifice it took to get there was buried deep.
With the immigrants came their fixers, the predominantly Sicilian Mafiosi who both protected them and extorted from them. Stefano Magaddino, the Prohibition-era boss of the Buffalo crime family, emigrated from Castellemmare del Golfo in Sicily at about the same time as the Lombardis, in the early to mid-1910s, and settled in the then-Sicilian enclave of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Mark Lombardi was to achieve his stardom in the century's last years. After quickly making his bones in the New York City underworld as the leader of a gang of Castellemmarese gangsters known as "the Good Killers," Magaddino was arrested in New York for the alleged murder of a rival gangster from his hometown and moved his operations to western New York. Under his tutelage the Buffalo crime family rose to prominence during Prohibition, benefiting from its proximity to the porous Canadian border and to Magaddino's connections to Canadian Mafia groups in southern Ontario, which supplied liquor to their colleagues in the United States. Magaddino and his cohorts grew wealthy from their profits and continued to be a major underworld force throughout the 1950s and 1960s, dominating the New York rackets in gambling, loansharking, narcotics, and labor and union rackets including pensions. After the American and Sicilian Mafias had their famous summit on globalizing the drug trade at the Grand Hotel des Palmes in Palermo, Sicily, in October 1957, Magaddino and his clan upgraded their Prohibition network to carry another commodity, heroin, through Montreal, the Canadian-American border crossings in Niagara and Fort Erie–Buffalo, and down the East Coast. In Syracuse, they were represented by Salvatore "Sam" Scro, a subject of Robert Kennedy's famous Mafia investigations that made upstate New York a primary focus.
Kennedy was not the only investigator to focus on upstate New York. Mark Lombardi's teacher and mentor, Jim Harithas, often told his students that in order for their art to reach an audience, they first had to make it real to themselves, an instruction that the beginning artist, struggling to find his voice, may have taken too literally. Shortly before his death in 2000, Mark Lombardi was allegedly warned by phone to desist in displaying the affairs of the five major New York crime families in his art.
The meaner streets were kept at bay in the Lombardi household in Manlius, where there were strict codes of conduct. If you talked back, you were sent to your room, where Mark spent a significant proportion of his time. Religious instruction from the nuns was a must until confirmation. You had to wear a hankie in your pocket and socks on your feet to come to dinner. Wearing a baseball cap was out of the question. And politics were not discussed at the dinner table, where Mark began his career as a gadfly.
When John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, the boy launched an ongoing monologue about how happy he was, and how the young president was going to change the course of American politics, all of the things he had learned in class from his adored fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Dann. His father listened in stoic silence as Mark talked on, and on, and on. Mark was a pent-up torrent of information, a lonely, hyper-bright, aggressive child who wore out everyone around him in his frenzy to grab center-stage. Once he got started, he was impossible to stop. He was the cuckoo in the family nest in more ways than one. His siblings resented being pushed aside in his need to monopolize every available scrap of attention, particularly female attention. "It was all about Mark, 24/7," Lisa said. Shirley, his staunch defender, adored him and saved all of his school reports and every scrap of memorabilia in a folder she titled "My Babe."
Mrs. Dann was a staunch Democrat, and so Mark became one. This killed two birds with one stone, a skill Mark would develop to even greater effect later in life: 1) To win the favor of Mrs. Dann, who was deeply committed to the Kennedy cause and who listened to him, Mark Lombardi; and 2) To get the goat of his father, Don, an equally staunch if not so vocal Republican, who did not.
Don Lombardi had strong personal and financial ties to the Republican power structure of New York State. His cousin, Tarky Lombardi Jr., a Syracuse City Council member at the time, was to serve from 1966 to 1992 as a Republican state senator, including a lengthy stint as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Health Committee. When he left the Syracuse City Council, he urged his cousin to take over his seat. Don, who describes himself as apolitical, declined.
Even as a child, Mark was what his sisters call a "stonehead" who butted up against his strict and often inarticulate father. He was not only obstinate but also more than a bit of a bully who used his intellect and his formidable verbal skills instead of his fists. Small and skinny, he avoided picking fights he couldn't win. He was a ruffler who liked to tell enormous whoppers and then dare the grownups to call his bluff. He would spin his tale, wind you up, and then reel you in with a cocky little smirk that meant "Gotcha!" He was a very good talker from his earliest years. He could talk himself out of any scrape he got himself into, and there were a lot of those. His family describes him as a hellion and a chronic envelope-pusher with varying degrees of affection, particularly Lisa, who became his unwilling accomplice in many escapades. Even Mrs. Dann gave him less-than-commendable marks on "Respects rights and properties of others" and "Observes school rules willingly." But she listened to him. Mrs. Dann, an activist who peppered her classes with liberal politics, enjoyed Mark's tendency to disrupt the classroom with incessant if highly intelligent questions.
Others did not. The family called him "Mighty Mouth" because he was so opinionated. Their opinions didn't matter. His opinions were the only right opinions, and he would just keep talking until they agreed with him. Most of it was a game. Mark amused himself endlessly by jabbing reactions out of people, but he was also desperate for some form of communication in a household where people found the question "What do you want to eat for dinner?" of much more interest than the kind of intellectual discussion he craved to feed his growing, hyperactive mind. He was exhausting.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Interlock"
Copyright © 2015 Patricia Goldstone.
Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Essential Mark Lombard! 1
1 Kennedy's Child 21
2 Promise and Confusion 37
3 The Big Easy 61
4 The Melancholy Rebel 83
5 The Machine that Makes the Art 103
6 "I'll Have to Tell Neil He's Represented Here" 135
7 The Oldest Emerging Artist in New York 161
8 The Well-Baited Trap 187
9 An Artist Commits a Suicide 205
10 Mark in the Metadata Afterlife: The Ahal Experience 231
"The One Continual Drawing in My Head" 263
The Black Eagle Trust 272
1950s: The Special Relationship 287
Operation Gladio 289
The French Connection 296
The Old China Hands 300
The World Anti-Communist League 306
The Pope and His Bankers 311
The Blond Ghost, JMA/VAVE, and the Vietnam Drug Trade 321
The Old China White Hands 328
The Modern Enterprise Network 335
The Big Bang 339
The Halloween Massacre and the Revolt of the Praetorian Guard 346
The State-Within-A-State 347
The Great Texas Bust-Out 360
BCCI, Iran/Contra, Harken Energy, and Jackson Stephens 371
George W. Bush, Harken Energy, and Jackson Stephens 378
Jackson Stephens 384
Clinton-Marc Rich - Bruce Rappaport-BNY-Gramm-Bliley 388
Epilogue: The Aftermath of Mark Lombard 401