On the Cover, May-August 2016: Deborah Butterfield at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery

On May 13, 2016 Zolla/Lieberman Gallery will present the work of artist Deborah Butterfield. The show is the gallery’s 15th solo exhibition for the sculptor. It also marks four decades of Butterfield and the gallery working together. Of the enduring collaboration, William Lieberman, gallery director and son of founder Roberta Lieberman, says, “I am honored to recognize Deborah’s forty year association with Zolla/Lieberman. She has remained true to her art, investing her sculptures with unique skill and breathtaking presence.”

In 1965, Roberta Lieberman and Bob Zolla first opened their gallery in a coach house in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, with the goal of showing important abstract artists. Friend and art critic Harry Bouras (also known as “Hairy Who?”) introduced Roberta and Bob to art colleagues who had acccess to the work of New York abstract artists Franz Kline, Philip Guston and many others. In 1975 Roberta and Bob travelled to New York where they befriended renowned SoHo art dealer Leo Castelli. Back in Chicago, Roberta and Bob rented space at 368 W. Huron – a loft building in a desolate industrial district almost a mile west of Michigan Avenue. In March 1976 Zolla/Lieberman opened with an inaugural exhibition featuring work from Castelli’s gallery, which included major New York School artists such as Frank Stella, Donald Judd and Robert Morris. To this day, William can recall the exact placement of what would now be a multi-million dollar Andy Warhol painting. However, nothing sold. When the James Rosenquist show that followed fared no better, Roberta and Bob had to face a hard fact: serious Chicago art collectors still went to New York to purchase works by these prominent artists.  

With the realization that local collectors were not coming to the gallery to buy New York School artists, they decided, boldly, to pursue their own vision and seek out emerging talent. They travelled to Roberta’s alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, where they visited the studio of Deborah Butterfield, an art instructor at the university and a promising sculptor. By the time they had finished lunch plans were set for a July 1976 exhibition of Butterfield’s life-sized mud-and-stick horses. These works would have an immediate national impact.  

Zolla/Lieberman and Butterfield built on this success with three annual exhibitions of Butterfield sculptures. The gallery began representing other young artists, such as Michelle Stuart, Deborah Remington and John Buck. Fostering the careers of emerging, midcareer, and established artists – an equal mix of women and men – became Zolla/Lieberman’s guiding principle.  


Zolla/Lieberman was the first art gallery in Chicago to open so far off the beaten path. It did not take long until other art galleries understood the benefits of the available, empty space. River North was born, and the energy of a vital art community blossomed. Enjoying success from their hard work, Zolla/Lieberman made the decision in 1980 to move to a 10,000-square foot loft in the Adler-Sullivan building next door at 356 W. Huron. That year Zolla/Lieberman exhibited Butterfield and other artists at the very first “Art Chicago,” an event that drew dealers, collectors, curators and critics from around the world. Though Chicago’s international art exhibition has since undergone several iterations, Zolla/Lieberman’s booth has always had a Butterfield work on display. 

On April 15, 1989 the gallery was dealt a devastating blow after a fire swept through the Adler-Sullivan building, ravaging not only Zolla/Lieberman but the building’s many other galleries as well. Butterfield’s unique copper and bronze sculpture, Louis, awaiting shipment to collectors John and Mary Pappajohn in Des Moines, melted. Despite the enormous setback, Zolla/Lieberman reopened six months later at 230 West Huron. 

In 1991 the gallery moved to its current location at 325 West Huron. Four years later the gallery was grateful for the unique support of the building’s owners, Jerry Meyer and Buzz Ruttenberg, who helped to keep the gallery’s rent affordable during another challenging period. 

Zolla/Lieberman Gallery has made West Huron Street its own, spanning four decades and four different addresses (368, 356, 230, and 325). Six months after Roberta passed away in 2004, Chicago’s City Council voted to name the corner of Huron and Franklin “Honorary Roberta Lieberman Way.” This intersection, and Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, continue to be landmarks in Chicago’s contemporary art scene.

Zolla/Lieberman Gallery | 325 W Huron, Chicago, IL 60654 | 312.944.1990 | zollaliebermangallery.com  | Deborah Butterfield runs May 13-August 20, 2016