|Article from Rural Intelligence
“Forces of Nature” at Kent’s Ober Gallery
“Some of my best clients are my former students,” says Rob Ober, the former tennis pro at the Sharon Country Club who became an art dealer two years ago when he opened the Ober Gallery in Kent. “One day during a lesson, the man I was teaching was describing a painting he’d just bought by a young Russian artist. I said, ‘Is it Pavel Pepperstein?’ He couldn’t believe that I would know that. He didn’t know that I was a serious collector of Soviet Nonconformist art.” Ober, whose day job is teaching history at the private Kent School, first saw Non-conformist art (which daringly challenged Communist dogma) as a teenager when his diplomat father was stationed in the former Soviet Union. “I remember the artists’ courage most of all,” he says. “They were putting their life on the line to express themselves.” At the time, Ober was more interested in tennis than art, and he headed off to the Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy in Florida from age 15 to 17, befriending Andre Agassi and bunking with Jim Courier. After graduating from Rollins College, Ober went to graduate school at Wesleyan for Russian Studies, and fell in love with Russain artists like Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky. “As Stalin rose to power, many of them went underground and became teachers and eventually I fell in love with the work of their students—the Unconformists.”
As a single teacher and tennis pro in northwestern Connecticut in the 1990s (he is now married with two young children), Ober started collecting Russian art of the 1960s and 1970s. “Some paintings I can look at and say, That was 350 tennis lessons,” he says, laughing. When the Guggenheim held its Russia! show in 2005, the value of his collection soared, which gave him the confidence to open his own art gallery. “By then I had fallen in love with American artists, too, especially painters who are students of Philip Guston and de Kooning.”
The group show he’s opening on Saturday—Forces of Nature—is a good representation of Ober’s point of view. “All of this work has an edge to it,” he says. “But it’s not conceptual art which is so prevalent now in New York. I love painting. I have a love of the brustroke. I like it really loose or really tight. I don’t like it in between.” He knows that many locals have more conservative taste so his roster of artists includes some traditional landscape painters like Lakeville’s Allen Blagden. “I don’t mind ‘barn art’ as long as it’s good barn art,” says Ober.
But it is expressionist paintings that make him euphoric such as Paul Weingarten’s brilliant canvas of lower Manhattan painted the year before 9/11 with its suggestion of turmoil brewing beneath the glorious surface, and the dreamy paintings of boats at sea by Katherine Bradford, which seem like metaphors for our time. He is also showing small, intricately painted works by David Ivie and elegiacal canvases by Alexey Krasnovsky, a Russian who lives in Ireland.
Ober doesn’t have enough wall space to show all the paintings he has on hand by these four artists, but he is known for pulling out his inventory to show anyone who is curious about an artist’s work. He said his clientele is a mix of weekenders and full-time residents: “For city people who come here on weekends and can’t do the New York galleries and for sophisticated locals who don’t want to go into New York to look at art, we’re the best of both worlds.”