Permanent Collection Highlight: The Boy
Publish Date: 3/31/2021
The Boy, c. 1935-43
Ruth Chaney, 1908 – 1973
Ruth Chaney was born Kansas City, Missouri. Her work depicts scenes of everyday life in New York City. The Boy was published as part of the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, which was the first major attempt at government support of the visual arts in the United States and was the most extensive and influential of the visual arts projects conceived during the Depression of the 1930s by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Chaney created a series of woodcuts under the patronage of the Federal Art Project including The Boy.
Chaney led a committee set up by the Public Use of Arts Committee, an offshoot of the Federal Art Project that created art for the New York subway system. There was such a favorable response to the committee’s subway art plan that an exhibition was organized to display their work at the Museum of Modern Art in 1938, just two years after the first Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project’s exhibition New Horizons in American Art. The exhibition, Subway Art, opened in February 1938 and focused not only on the art itself, but also the innovation that artists and scientists together created, allowing it to be displayed in a nontraditional setting.
A couple years later, Chaney’s work was part of another exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art entitled American Color Prints Under $10. The show was organized as a vehicle for bringing affordable art prints to the general public. It is evident from Chaney’s participation in this program and these exhibitions that she understood the relationship between the artist and the public. Her work was rooted in the idea that it would be accessible and readily available, expanding upon the ethos that art is for everyone.
Chaney, along with other female artists, were looking at breaking down the barriers between the artist, the elite and the consumer, the public. She explored art as a democratic practice that should be readily available to all. Chaney believed that art was to enhance a person’s life and no one should be excluded from that. Chaney, along with the other artists in Women to Watch, fought for equality in not only their own visibility in the field, but who would be allowed to see and collect their work.
Chaney’s work will be on display in Women to Watch: Celebrating the Centennial of Women’s Suffrage through May 2.
Learn more about Women to Watch: Celebrating the Centennial of Women’s Suffrage from our Curator of Paintings and Works on Paper, Campbell Mobley.