Sunday, November 13th, 2011

A Disciple of Baudelaire: Joachim Neugroschel, 1938-2011

Translator, Poet, Art Critic

Sylvia Sleigh, Joachim Neugroschel, 1970. Oil on canvas, 38 x 18 inches. Courtesy I-20 Gallery
Sylvia Sleigh, Joachim Neugroschel, 1970. Oil on canvas, 38 x 18 inches. Courtesy I-20 Gallery

Joachim Neugroschel, who died May 23 aged 73, is best known as a literary figure, the prize-winning translator of over 200 books, mostly from French, German and Yiddish, though also from Russian and Italian. But in addition to this literary work, Neugroschel was an important participant in the New York art scene from the Sixties through the Nineties, especially during its Soho days. Joachim, who was born in Vienna and came to America when he was three years old, wrote and translated catalogue essays for art galleries, composed gallery reviews for a variety of publications, and was an avid collector of the art of his contemporaries.

In one sense, he was the embodiment of a not uncommon character in the Soho of those days or in the Chelsea of today: he was a poet as well as an art critic, a disciple of Baudelaire, a flaneur, in whom the two disciplines indissolubly merged. He was also a founding editor of Extensions, a little magazine that published some of the early poems of John Ashbery and Andrei Codrescu, as well as the art writings of Lawrence Alloway and Vito Acconci, John Perreault, Peter Schjeldahl and Richard Kostelanetz.

But to the many people who knew Joachim, or knew of him, this dry recital of a few biographical details will give little sense of the essence of the man. I knew him for the last 15 or so years of his life and he seemed, more than anyone else I have known, to live up to Hamlet description of Yorick as “a fellow of infinite jest.” In all the hundreds of times that I had lunch or dinner with him, he never once seemed anything less than happy, even when, in later years, he was clearly beginning to be enfeebled by a variety of ailments, as old age began to take its toll. Despite the seriousness of his intellectual pursuits, he saw humor everywhere, not least in himself. Indeed, he perennially seemed to be at least a generation younger than he really was, since he never lost that inexhaustible and ebullient sense of wonder and adventure that are or should be the hallmarks of youth.