Lionel Abel Remembered
Years ago, while reading Irving Howe’s autobiography, The Margin of Hope, I came across a humorous but insightful observation made by Lionel Abel about New York during the 1930s: “It became the most interesting part of the Soviet Union…that one part of the country in which the struggle between Stalin and Trotsky could be openly expressed.”
That, of course, was common knowledge for those immersed in the politics of the time. For the most part, Abel’s radical politics and his defense of the cultural underdogs are best expressed in numerous essays which he had contributed to the early years of Partisan Review, New Politics, and later, in his impassioned critical view of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1963, which was also linked to Abel’s memorable attack on Irving Kristol and Alfred Kazin.
Born Lionel Abelson in 1910, in Brooklyn, he was the son of a maverick rabbi. After attending St. John’s University and University of North Carolina, Abel soon began his career as a playwright, critic, and translator in New York City. It was through his brother-in-law, Albert Goldman, that Abel came to be close to the Socialist Party, or Trotskyist circles, in Greenwich Village, which included Irving Howe, Harold Rosenberg, Meyer Schapiro, Saul Bellows, Daniel Bell, and several other New York intellectuals.
As a playwright, Absalom, one of his four off-Broadway plays, was probably the best known of Abel’s work. His 1984 memoir The Intellectual Follies is quite similar to Irving Howe’s The Margin of Hope, published two years earlier—both are highly recommended for those who haven’t read them. Abel’s work is his personal account, from the end of the 1920s through the post-World War II years, of all the intellectual activities as well as radical awareness of art and politics during the period.
After teaching English at the State University of New York in Buffalo for nearly twenty years, in 1987, Abel’s collection of essays, mostly about European writers like Dostoevsky, Bertrand Russell, Jean Genet, Edmund Wilson, Arthur Koestler, and Jean Paul Sartre, were published in the book, Important Nonsense. It is a notable read and revelatory regarding Abel’s own affection and personal commentary on these figures’ works. Lionel Abel was Sartre’s authorized translator, and his translation of Rimbaud is also worthy of merit. The Brooklyn Rail salutes one of Brooklyn’s native sons.
Chryssa: Chryssa & New YorkBy David C. Shuford
JUNE 2023 | ArtSeen
Some 60 years after her breakout solo shows in 1961 at the Betty Parsons Gallery and the Guggenheim Museum, the pioneering artist Chryssa is finally back in the public eye. Showcasing an impressive range of work centered upon light and form, Chryssa & New York at Dia Chelsea is the first museum show in North America in over four decades to focus on the Greek-born artist Chryssa Vardea-Mavromichali (19332013). Once considered a pivotal figure in the burgeoning dialogue amongst Pop, Minimalist, and Conceptual factions, Chryssas stature has suffered in recent decades, her profile fading as others in her milieu have had their reputations burnished to the level of cottage industries.
52. (New York’s Waterways)By Raphael Rubinstein
MAY 2021 | The Miraculous
Upon graduating from art school, a young artist attends a boat-building school in Northern California. When she moves to New York City a few years later she puts her newly-acquired nautical skills to use by building a small boat capable of circumnavigating Manhattan.
100. East 19th Street near Union SquareBy Raphael Rubinstein
APRIL 2022 | The Miraculous
Speaking in her studio at the age of 100, a Cuban-born artist who has lived mostly in New York for the past 75 years, nearly all of it in obscurity (she was 89 before she finally sold one of her geometric constructions, and survived until then only thanks to her husbands salary and pension as a public-school teacher) reflects on the museum attention that has come her way over the last two years: They say, If you wait for the bus, the bus will come. I waited 98 years for the bus to come.
Frank Bowling: London/New YorkBy David Rhodes
MAY 2021 | ArtSeen
For Frank Bowlings inaugural exhibition with the gallery, paintings from a six-decade career that saw Bowling work between London and New York are presented at both the London and New York locations simultaneously. Works on view span over 50 years of the artists career, from 1967 to the present day.