the centre of attention
A truly minimalist art show, San Fancisco Chronicle, Friday 11 April 2003
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by Kenneth Baker, Chronicle Art Critic

On a recent Sunday evening, a few dozen people gathered for an opening at Gallery Spanganga in the Mission. Cheap wine mixed with raucous conversation, but the walls and floor were bare.

Standing in for artworks were Pierre Coinde and Gary O'Dwyer, co- proprietors of a London gallery called The Centre of Attention.

Word had spread through Spanganga's e-mail list and by art world bush telegraph that Coinde and O'Dwyer would begin with a vacant gallery a project they called "The Centre of Attention Search Engine."

"We wanted to have what we do as gallerists be part of a show," O'Dwyer said over the din of the small opening crowd. "Since we don't know anyone in San Francisco, this seemed like a good place to try it out." The outside world still identifies the Bay Area as the home of the search engine.

"Also, I think Pierre had a free place to stay," O'Dwyer said.

The plan originally called for Coinde and O'Dwyer to spend six days trawling for interesting work and then installing it as a one-day exhibition, the idea being to "address the activity of a gallery as a search engine," as the Londoners put it on their Web site.

Several artists drifted in with slides and other materials during the opening. O'Dwyer and Coinde squinted at slides, asked pointed questions and took phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

"We've seen five or six artists this evening, and we've heard from some by e-mail," said Coinde, who resembles the young James Spader. "Maybe because they're a little shy some say, 'Have a look at my Web site, why don't you?' "

They had already scheduled studio visits with graduate students in the art departments of UC Berkeley and the California College of Arts and Crafts.

"As it gets toward the end of the week, we'll probably be much more ruthless," Coinde said. "But at the start of the week we're very open. We'll also have a documentation wall that includes evidence of the search engine in operation." It ended up plastered with exhibition announcements, bus maps and old transfers, pictures of artists' studios and such.

Coinde and O'Dwyer kept their ruthlessness to themselves when I trailed them through several studio visits at CCAC's San Francisco campus.

"This building would be the envy of a lot of art schools in London," Coinde said, as we entered the renovated bus maintenance facility that is now CCAC-SF.

Snaking among graduate students' cubicles, trying to keep a schedule of 15- minute appointments, Coinde and O'Dwyer fell into a pattern of questions about materials, artistic intention, installation preferences.

CCAC sculptor Maiko Sugano probably did not dare believe that Coinde and O'Dwyer would choose to show her work, conversation being so difficult due to her tentative English and their apparent tone-deafness to a Japanese accent. But the three of us visitors quickly, silently concurred that Sugano's work is exceptional. She makes simple, biomorphic sculptures from bars of colored soap,

each one symbolizing the mood of a day, and positions them on the shelflike "floors" of a "cityscape," as she calls it, of open-latticed model buildings, some standing well over 6 feet.

Her piece gently dominates the small show that ended up at Spanganga (6-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday through April 20).

"We do work well together as curators," Coinde said, when asked whether he and O'Dwyer had disagreed over the show's final contents. "Laura was Gary's selection," he said, referring to a single painting by Laura Ball, a sinisterly modified Western illustration. "I took a bit of convincing. But I've come around."