The new show at the Center of Contemporary Arts is titled The Millennium Show: Looking Forward, Looking Back. One glance will convince you that there is very little looking forward and lots of looking back in this show -- back to the past in general but also back to some all-too-familiar artworks, media and styles. Mimicry, nostalgia and revivalism predominate here, and not all of it is good.
On the upside, it's always a pleasure to see what artists like Deb Touhill and Kit Keith do with nostalgia. Keith is represented by two works, "Cecil van Dyke" and "Teardrop," which make reference to the past without becoming maudlin. Thematically, these works aren't as strong as the ones on view in Some Girls at Gallery 210, and they get a little lost in the shuffle here, but Keith's sure hand still shows. Touhill's "Victorious" and "Lonesome" draw on images of dogs as they appear in old-fashioned advertisements and illustration. Her paintings aren't copies but knowing pastiches of sentimental styles.
On the downside, there are the artists who seem to be living in the past, and their art suffers for it. Cases in point: Three works by Rebecca Bailey are small assemblages of sepia-toned photos, old wooden objects and rusted metal pieces, constructed in boxlike frames. It doesn't seem to matter what the objects are or who is portrayed in the photographs; the works generate nothing more than a pointless, generic feel of "pastness," with an obvious, straight-faced indebtedness to Joseph Cornell. That works like these are still being made now, in 1999, makes one wonder when the perennial fascination with Cornell and his boringly naive little box assemblages will finally fade -- the sooner the better, for all concerned.
The Millennium Show has more than its share of artistic retreads and revivals. Barry Leibman's triptych "Yesterday, A Few Days" is a clear homage to Monet's water-lily paintings. Robert Pogatetz's "Baby Frank" is an oddly garish but somehow engaging interpretation in oil of a photo of a very young Frank Sinatra. And the show doesn't leave out the requisite feminist "statement" -- two corset-inspired constructions by Laurie McKnight fill out the bill.
In the midst of the mostly tired-looking ensemble, Mark Douglas's digital drawings and mixed-media works on paper stand out as solid examples of clean, self-assured graphic design. And the high point of the show has to be Matt O'Shea's "Round the Block," a mixed-media work that pairs photographs with paint and cheap wood paneling to form a Cubist vision of the urban-vernacular built environment.
Fortunately this show does not muse much on the millennium per se; that would be a waste of time, and besides, millennium- themed shows are a dime a dozen. It's rather unclear, however, what this show is, in fact, trying to accomplish. Maybe it's better not to ask and instead appreciate the bright spots it has to offer.