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(Left) Leonard Abrams at age 26, 1981, Photo by Tom Warren; (Right) Leonard Abrams at age 62, 2017, Photo by Curt Hoppe
Veterans of the alternative newspaper East Village Eye (1979 – 1987) were shocked to learn this week of the sudden death of Leonard Abrams, the paper’s founder and guiding light. Only days before, former Eye contributors (including Gallery 98’s Marc H. Miller) had attended a party celebrating the purchase of the Eye archive by the New York Public Library. This was the fulfillment of Leonard’s longtime goal, and then suddenly he was gone, struck down by a heart attack.
Abrams founded his first “underground” newspaper in high school, and he was only twenty-four when he started the Eye is 1979. As an emerging international center for new music and art, the East Village was ripe with possibilities, but it was not easy to publish a monthly newspaper without cash resources. Leonard kept it going for eight years, in part because his low-key manner, modesty, and commitment to the neighborhood as a community convinced hundreds to work with him without compensation. Today many of those contributors are legendary and the 73 issues of the Eye are regarded as a primary resource for the culture of the 1980s.
You can read more about Leonard’s life and accomplishments at Alan W. Moore’s blog “Art Gangs.”
Leonard Abrams (publisher), East Village Eye, Volume 1 Number 1, cover with James White (aka James Chance) by Dana, art director Christoph Kohlhofer, May 1979
Size: 10.75 x 15.75 inches — Available
The East Village Eye’s first issue stressed its identity as a community paper by featuring neighborhood legend Jackie Curtis, and an article about how landlords were burning down East Village buildings for insurance payouts. Its prescient art coverage captured the emerging “No Wave” in music and cinema.
Detail from Gallery 98’s online exhibition East Village Eye, 1979-1987
Back in 2012, Gallery 98 created this online exhibition about the Eye which included a short history and scans of many of its issues. In the 80s, Leonard provided many of us with an important platform at a time when the East Village was receiving international attention. My column “Miller’s Memorabilia” appeared in 37 issues of the Eye.
Leonard Abrams (publisher), East Village Eye, special edition, The East Village Eye Show, Kembra Pfahler, Fall 2016
Size: 10.5 x 15.5 Inches — Available
Perhaps this issue is more of an addendum than a final issue. The special edition doubled as the catalogue for the East Village Eye Show held at Howl! Happening in 2016.
East Village Eye issues by year, from the website east-village-eye.com
Abrams’ dream of making the complete run of the Eye, all 73 issues, available for free on the internet was finally realized just two months ago in February 2023. Mission accomplished. RIP Leonard!