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The Phantom Project brings provocative art to vacant retail spaces in SLO

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The Phantom Project has, however temporarily, filled a gaping, empty space in the heart of San Luis Obispo. It’s a place that, like 672 Higuera St., had been empty for so long we’d ceased noticing its vacancy.

THE GREAT DIVIDE:  Michael Reddell—artist, Phantom organizer, and president of the Central Coast Sculptor’s Group—created The Chasm, a work depicting the great divide between the sexes. - PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • THE GREAT DIVIDE: Michael Reddell—artist, Phantom organizer, and president of the Central Coast Sculptor’s Group—created The Chasm, a work depicting the great divide between the sexes.

The project, which transforms empty retail spaces into pop-up art galleries, has provided artists with a new venue to show their work; given art lovers an exciting, edgy eyeful; and, happily for Quaglino Properties, made a long-dormant address feel viable and brimming with possibility again.

The Phantom Project opened Thursday, Feb. 3 to a packed house—something that can be attributed to the event’s considerable social media buzz, but probably also to the curiosity of passersby happening upon a gallery that seemed to have blossomed overnight, already full of beautiful and bizarre objects (Larry LeBrane’s deadly stilettos, armed with switchblade heels; Catherine Verhulst’s leering yet comical Smiling Feet.)

- MANIFEST DESTINY:  This badass assemblage by Sara Egerer—titled Manifest Destiny—received an honorable mention from Phantom Project jurors. -  - PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • MANIFEST DESTINY: This badass assemblage by Sara Egerer—titled Manifest Destiny—received an honorable mention from Phantom Project jurors.

The show was conceived by the Central Coast Sculptor’s Group, part of the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, and encompasses painting, drawing, etching, assemblage, and sculpture (the latter an art form that, as organizers know all too well, is notoriously difficult to show locally).

“It started out because we wanted more places to show art,” Michael Reddell, Central Coast Sculptor’s Group president and one of several Phantom organizers, explained of the project. “We were hoping to get enough art to jury a show.”

- THE FINAL CUT:  An open call for submissions to The Phantom Project yielded 235 pieces, organizers say, though only 70 were selected. Pictured is a view of the pop-up gallery and some of the work that made the final cut. -  - PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • THE FINAL CUT: An open call for submissions to The Phantom Project yielded 235 pieces, organizers say, though only 70 were selected. Pictured is a view of the pop-up gallery and some of the work that made the final cut.

When an open call yielded an overwhelming 235 submissions, jurors Tim Anderson, Steven deLuque, and New Times own Glen Starkey had the dubious task of narrowing it down to 70.

Among the chosen is Dennis Kehoe, whose Untitled 1 (an etching of a skeleton crouching among abstract forms), Untitled 2 (a bronze, steel, and encaustic sculpture of a woman with, where a head might normally be, a gun-toting arm), and Untitled 3 (another woman with a gun, rendered in bronze and steel) were all accepted.

Two sculptures by Los Osos artist George Jercich playfully evoke levity and flexibility with steel and glass; in Jercich’s Grab and Snare, a steel fishing line wraps around a glass orb, which appears to cinch up like a balloon.

Silver figurines duke it out in The Chasm, Reddell’s sculptural diptych. It’s a piece comprised of two separate blocks; a closer look reveals women to be on one side, men on the other. Some of the women wave demurely, some reach longingly toward the men, while others appear to dance self-consciously. Still others cover their faces with their hands in an expression of either grief or shame. One lone figurine doesn’t appear to see the men at all, and crouches over the opposite side of her square block, as if contemplating a fatal jump.

On the male side of the great divide, some figures point and gape at their counterparts, while others sit or stand quietly and observe. Others beckon with a wave.

It changes things that they are rendered in miniature; their toy size seems to trigger our sympathies, making their human dramas suddenly pitiable, even petty.

- … NOW YOU DON’T!:  The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art recently kicked off The Phantom Project, an ongoing series of awesome, month-long art shows in otherwise empty retail spaces around San Luis Obispo. The first is at 672 Higuera St. in downtown SLO. Gallery hours are Thursday from 2 to 8 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. A closing reception will be held during Art After Dark on March 2, from 6 to 9 p.m. -
  • … NOW YOU DON’T!: The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art recently kicked off The Phantom Project, an ongoing series of awesome, month-long art shows in otherwise empty retail spaces around San Luis Obispo. The first is at 672 Higuera St. in downtown SLO. Gallery hours are Thursday from 2 to 8 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. A closing reception will be held during Art After Dark on March 2, from 6 to 9 p.m.

Sara Egerer’s dangerous-looking assemblages Manifest Destiny (an eagle with blades for wings) and Mixed Blessings (an equally frightening cross) made the cut—the former nabbing an honorable mention from jurors.

Lena Rushing’s wonderful paintings You Can’t Go Home—a work based on a poem by Thomas Wolfe—and Straight Ahead—which depicts a woman in a bathtub, at the corner of which sits a bat holding a spyglass—received third place and an honorable mention, respectively.

Everything about Lee Lockhart’s sculpture Kalatar Atta the Head Footman is intriguing and hard to describe: a long-necked object coming to a circular head, in which a glass pane contains, when viewed from the correct angle, a strange design.

It’s a great exhibit, but it won’t last (the show closes on Friday, March 2, during Art After Dark.) Organizers are promising another one soon, but they can’t say when or where. That all depends on the next vacancy.

Arts Editor Anna Weltner embraces emptiness—when it’s filled. Contact her at aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

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