"Proletarian" painting, the high-style school of U.S. art in the late '30s, is out of fashion today—but one of the A students of that school who still commands attention is dour Jack Levine, 37. Even abstractionists, today's darlings (whom he sneeringly refers to as "Space Cadets"), respect his work; and conservative as well as advance-guard museums collect it. This fall Levine's paintings will get more attention than ever before: a retrospective show opens this month at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art, and will be seen later at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Washington's Phillips Gallery and other museums.

Levine focuses, with...

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