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Hananiah Harari (1912 – 2000)

Abstract Street (Untitled), 1939, oil on canvas, signed and dated lower right, 12 x 32 inches; provenance includes a private collection in Venice, California; presented in what is likely the artist's original handmade frame


About the Painting

The present work is the culmination of a series of mainly horizontal urban abstractions Harari completed between 1937 and 1939. Deeply influenced by Stuart Davis, Harari’s New York streetscapes began with clearly recognizable objects and landmarks as in Into New York (1937 - Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art), New York Harbor (1937), Up and Downtown (1938), and his other mural proposals for the Nurses Home on Welfare Island (1937) and the Williamsburg Housing Project (1938). At the end of the series, Harari’s vistas became increasingly abstract with broad planes of color representing buildings and streets, the slightest cross-hatching forming a bridge or elevated train track and the vague suggestion of a streetlight looping in the right center of the composition. Figures, birds, and a street vendor’s cart are reduced to pictograms scratched into the surface of the canvas. Abstract Street (Untitled) is among Harari’s most spare works of the 1930s and 1940s and calls to mind the seemingly childlike, but deeply sophisticated works of Paul Klee from the 1920s. It serves as an excellent reminder of why Harari was heralded as one of the earliest members of the American Abstract Artists.

About the Artist

Hananiah Harari was an artistic polyglot who was equally at home working in styles as diverse as Cubism, Constructivism, Expressionism, Hard Edged Abstraction and trompe l’oeil Realism. A native of Rochester, New York, Harari initially studied as a child at the Memorial Art Gallery in his hometown and later as a scholarship student at the College of Fine Arts at Syracuse University. In 1932, Harari left for Paris where he befriended Nahum Tschacbasov, Benjamin Benno and John Graham and studied at the ateliers of Lhote, Leger and Gromaire. He also studied fresco painting at the Ecole de Fresque. By 1933, Harari had completed enough work and gained a sufficient reputation to have a solo exhibition at the American Club in Paris. The following year, Harari and his childhood friend and fellow artist Herzl Emanuel traveled to Palestine, where the artists worked hard in the orchards and fields of Kibbutz Deganiah, but produced little art. After returning to New York, Harari married Emanuel’s sister, Freda, and set out on the development of what noted scholar Gail Stavitsky has called an “original synthesis of the old and new." Harari became an early member of the American Abstract Artists (AAA), an organization formed to give modernists exhibition opportunities. Harari was also a member of the socially conscious Artist’s Union and the American Artist’s Congress. From 1936 through 1942, Harari worked on the Federal Art Project and assisted Marion Greenwood on a project as part of the Mural Division, but to his disappointment did not lead his own project. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Harari completed a series of paired paintings with the same subject matter depicted in a Cubist manner and in trompe l’oeil Realism. Harari was acclaimed by Clement Greenberg and six of the artist’s works were selected for the Museum of Modern Art’s important 1943 exhibition American Realists and Magic Realists. During World War II, Harari served in the US Army Air Corps. Following the war, Harari continued to produce fine art while also producing commercial art. During the McCarthy Era, Harari’s progressive politics and leftist leaning art for the New Masses resulted in a blacklisting from Madison Avenue firms. During the 1960s through the 1980s, Harari returned more strongly toward figure painting. During the course of his six-decade-long career, Harari taught consistently, including over ten years at the Art Students League during the 1980s and 1990s. In addition to the Museum of Modern Art, Harari exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Academy of Design, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as more than a dozen other museums. He is listed in Who Was Who in American Art and all other standard references.


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