Alan G. Artner, Art critic

One of the keenest pleasures in contemporary art comes from watching young artists on the way toward fulfilling early promise.

Helen O`Leary`s exhibition at the Zolla-Lieberman Gallery, 325 W. Huron St., gives precisely that pleasure, as her new abstract paintings show significant development over those of just a year ago.

The pieces still disguise their rigor by looking improvised. But O`Leary has opened up the latticeworks, giving her drawn, dripped and stenciled forms the room that allows one to perceive how delicate most of them are.

The best pieces on show exploit fragility by suggesting a highly strung discourse that has run amok, taking on accretions until its firmer shapes and gestures are submerged, encircled, overwhelmed.

When the accretions themselves are thick, they lose animation and the nervous, wriggling quality that links the work to Wassily Kandinsky`s early abstractions. But O`Leary`s more clotted paintings have an aggressiveness the artist needed to indulge before going on to something else; her next show is likely to tell us it did not detain her for long. (Through Jan. 4.)

DAN SOCHA (CCA, 325 W. Huron St.): One of last year`s most ravishing exhibitions included ”paintings” Socha created with a number of unorthodox materials. Now his exploration continues with ”drawings” and sculptural reliefs made from beads, wicker, cement, carbon and rawhide.

The language remains indebted to early geometric abstraction, with the severity of a few decisively placed forms set against the tactility and color of each surface. Most pieces are small. They also are extremely subtle.

Socha`s ”drawings” are of lampblack on faded newsprint with some collaged elements. The carbon gives a deep, soft saturation as the shellac-coated newsprint suggests closely packed earth or stone that has been abraded.

The sensibility is strong and questing but also delicate. Nothing indicates the work depends on theory. Whatever the viewer needs for comprehension is already present, tantalizing the eyes while lifting the spirit. (Through Dec. 28.)

CHARLES RENNIE MACKINTOSH, FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT (Kelmscott, 4611 N. Lincoln Ave.): In 1901, Darmstadt publisher Alexander Koch announced an architectural competition to design a house for a lover of the arts. Several prizes were to be awarded, with the winners` drawings reproduced in portfolios.

Kelmscott shows all the published designs, along with selections from the famous 1910 Wasmuth portfolio of early works by Wright.

Clearly the most modern was the house conceived by Mackintosh, who failed to submit perspective drawings and was disqualified from the competition only later to receive a purchase prize. Here he was at the pinnacle of his art, surpassing in beauty and invention both of the other winners, Leopold Bauer and M.H. Baillie Scott.

Mackintosh and Wright never met or corresponded, yet some of Wright`s furniture looks as if it was indebted to Mackintosh, and the architectural drawings reproduced in the Wasmuth portfolio are equally daring.

It`s hard to imagine a small exhibition that would better communicate the range of early modern architectural achievement. (Through Dec. 7.)