R.B. Kitaj’s painting, The Ohio Gang, is a figurative work created in 1964 that measures 1.8 x 1.8 m and features a female nude. Known for his expressive style and art historical references, Kitaj was considered a master draughtsman committed to figurative art and made significant contributions to European and American contemporary painting.
The painting’s title refers to the group of politicians and industry leaders close to President Warren G. Harding during his administration known as The Ohio Gang. The group became embroiled in financial scandals during the presidency, which drew national attention at the time.
Kitaj’s interpretation of The Ohio Gang presents striking contrasts between light and dark tones in its composition that add dramatic tension to the female figure on display. Despite being a nude portrait, Kitaj avoids objectification by presenting her as more than just an object of desire through positioning her in relation to the scandal-ridden political figures.
The Ohio Gang is an example of how artists can tackle political issues through their artwork while maintaining integrity and aesthetic appeal. Kitaj’s mastery shines through this exemplary work that reminds us how even old paintings can still be relevant today given their contextual background information.