They stand alert, machine guns at their sides, torture and pillage on their minds. Interrogating the weak and scrawny, blindfolded from the glare of bare light bulbs, these soldiers of fortune parade arrogantly across huge canvases. They are not gruesome. They are not overt. But they are troubling, and that's the problem.

The New York art world, given more to flights of fancy or cerebral contemplation than to political issues, has been troubled by artist Leon Golub for a long, long time. Now, at 62, after 40 years of painting, he has finally received a long overdue museum retrospective.

"Golub," which runs through Nov. 25 in the main gallery of the New Museum of Contemporary Art (583 Broadway), consists of 41 paintings, arranged chronologically: from the artist's early and subjective self-portraits exploring the savagery of primitive art, to his classical gods and giants locked in battle, his '70s series called "Napalm and Vietnam," his "Face of Power" portraits of world leaders (Nelson Rockefeller, Franco and others), and his most recent and strongest work -- monumental layouts of victims and perpetrators of torture and interrogation.

Handsomely mounted by cocurators Ned Rifkin and Lynn Gumpert and covering the full range of work by a rare artist who has defied the medium for the sake of the message, the show is documented in a companion catalogue: "On Power and Vulnerability: The Art of Leon Golub" ($13.50).