Chicago is rich in alternative galleries featuring work by recent art-school grads but poor in exhibitions of seldom-seen work by famous artists–the kind that are common in New York and Los Angeles. A new gallery, Valerie Carberry, has stepped into the breach with the first Adolph Gottlieb show in Chicago in 36 years, focusing on preabstract work done between 1927 and ’39. These works aren’t as great as the abstract expressionist paintings that made him famous, but it’s fascinating to see his brush straining toward that freedom. The table and cactus in Untitled (Cactus Still Life, New York) (1939) are painted almost as a single unit, in the manner of Cezanne; intensely cramped, they also resemble a human figure. The somberness of the colors in Chessboard (1937) is only partly relieved by the board’s diagonal placement on a dark table and red-and-black grid, which gives the work a suggestive power that looks toward the pictographic paintings Gottlieb made a few years later. Picnic (Box and Figures) (ca. 1939) shows the influence of surrealism’s deep space, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background and a stagelike box in the foreground, but the colored geometrical cones of the “figures” anticipate the abstract shapes of his later work. Valerie Carberry, Hancock Center, 875 N. Michigan, suite 2510, through May 17. Hours are 10 to 5 Monday through Friday, by appointment on Saturday; 312-397-9990.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation/Licensed by Vaga NY, NY.