THE WATERCOLORS OF DAVID LEVINE through July 20 at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street NW, 10 to 5 Tuesday through Saturday, 2 to 7 on Sundays.

David Levine has caught an entire era of us in his barbed caricatures. Gracing the pages of Esquire, The New York Review of Books and just about every other design-savvy publication in this country, his pen-and-ink drawings serve as a visual chronicle of our politics and culture.

The Phillips Collection has assembled a handsome show of his noncommercial works -- watercolors. While caricature reaches for the extremes of a subject, portraits explore the subleties. Levine's watercolors love ordinary people, places and activities -- sleeping, embroidering, ironing, sunbathing.

What Levine knows so well is what to include and what to exclude from his pictures. Subjects emerge from simple, solid backgrounds. His eye and hand glance around the subjects, landing on little areas demanding greater attention and detail -- a face, a fabric, an umbrella. The mix of simple surface against detailed surface is wise and exciting.

The 40 works employ a wide range of wtercolor techniques -- puddling, blotting, transparency. His style changes drastically from work to work. When Levine sees an opportunity to borrow elements of style from past watercolor masters he takes it. This deliberate ecclecticism gives reinforces intimations of Daumier, Homer and Vermeer.

These very painterly, small works are perfectly at home in the intimate spaces of the Phillips.