Since the world celebrates a millennium just once every thousand years, it's understandable that the approach of 2000 is a recurrent theme in society and art. This has resulted in a spate of exhibits and works that were inspired by or explore millennial motifs, including "Time Will Tell: An Exhibition for the Millennium Portraying the Passage of Time," at the Torpedo Factory's Target Gallery.

In general, the good news about millennium exhibitions, which range from doom and gloom to outright silliness, is that they won't come around again for another 10 centuries. "Time Will Tell," however, is a cut above the norm.

What is so refreshing about this balanced and thoughtful group show is that it doesn't take its potentially ponderous theme too seriously. Some of the works chosen by Wendell Castle, a sculptor who juried the exhibition, address the passage of time in various ways. Others are only peripherally related to that notion. Yet they all work together.

That wasn't an accident. "Some of the best pieces didn't really deal with the theme, so I had to broaden it a bit," says Castle, who winnowed the 44 works on display from 399 submissions. "I thought it was more important to have a good show than stick strictly with the theme."

That generous approach produced a diverse but cohesive exhibition that includes sculpture, painting, ceramics and some craft pieces, such as jewelry. The styles range from minimal and conceptual to figurative and realistic. Surprisingly, there is only one work that includes a clock.

One of the strongest pieces in the show--and one that exemplifies the broad treatment of the theme--is Thomas Bartel's ceramic sculpture, "Mr. Baby Man." It's a strange piece that doesn't seem at first glance to have anything to do with time's passage. The figure has the head of a full-grown man atop the torso of a toddler in a striped shirt, the kind typically worn by 2-year-olds. But the erect nipples poking through the garment destroy that sense of childlike innocence. The macabre head, pink and hairless like a newborn babe's but looking like Uncle Fester from "The Addams Family," makes the striped shirt look different: It seems to resemble penal garb.

By itself, "Mr. Baby Man" would just be a weird yet well-executed piece. But in the context of the theme, it becomes something more: a man's life compressed into a strange little figure. By combining elements of boy and man, baby and adult, Bartel evokes the fleeting nature of human existence. The stripes add to that effect, calling to mind W.H. Auden's line from "In Memory of W.B. Yeats": "In the prison of his days/ Teach the free man how to praise."

Another work that deals indirectly with time is Kathleen M. Connolly's "Untitled," a 15-by-17-inch stack of used tea bags. From a distance, it looks like a small bale of tobacco or a woodcarving. Up close, the subtle variations in each bag's color make one think of when it was used, how long it steeped and whether it was used more than once. The tea bags become a unit of measure, a way of marking time's passage.

Like many of the works in this fine show, Connolly's piece is a relatively simple idea that is also visually compelling, richly textural, slightly whimsical, and wise. Those qualities seem likely to be with mankind until the next millennium rolls around.

Anufriev at Alla Rogers

Alexander Anufriev paints angels, only angels. That may strike some as odd, obsessive or even cynical, considering the popularity angels currently enjoy on television and in books.

While the choice of subject may be a bit strange, there is nothing cynical about it. Anufriev's angels have little to do with pop culture, even if they appeal to the popular imagination. As can be seen in the exhibition of his latest paintings at Alla Rogers Gallery, his hauntingly beautiful angels come from his imagination, which is fueled by a mixture of Western high culture and contemporary aesthetics.

By restricting himself to angels, Anufriev confronts a difficult task as an artist: how to make each new work fresh and vital. He succeeds in producing images that linger long in one's mind not because of his subject, but because of his outstanding ability as a painter and his knowledge of art history.

Anufriev is such a skilled painter that he can put all sorts of delicious little tidbits into his work. The background behind one angel is reminiscent of a 17th-century Dutch still life. Another angel plays music against an Italian Early Renaissance backdrop. Two cherubs in yet another picture hark back to Botticelli's angels. In some pictures Anufriev seems to be bowing to the Old Masters; in others he pokes gentle fun at them.

But the angels themselves are uniquely Anufriev's. With their elongated faces and round, soulful eyes they are appealing but otherworldly. Some of them seem like divine space aliens or heavenly action figures. The most striking angel in this latest batch has blue skin. You won't find that on television or in art history.

Time Will Tell at the Target Gallery, Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. Daily, noon to 5 p.m., through Jan. 2. Call 703-549-6877.

Alexander Anufriev at Alla Rogers Gallery, 1054 31st St. NW, Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 6 p.m., through Jan. 15. Call 202-333-8595.