AT FIRST GLANCE, you might mistake Lee Anne Swanson for a young, up-and-coming advertising executive, or perhaps a junior public-relations officer at a multinational corporation. She is tall and fit with a round, open face and an engaging and direct manner. In her loose-fitting and stylish black pantsuit, Swanson exudes professional confidence and charm.
But Swanson does not conduct her business on the upper floor of a downtown high-rise overlooking the city. Rather, she sits on an orange lawn chair inside a raw and temporarily abandoned warehouse space in an industrial section of southeast Minneapolis. As we talk, a train rumbles by just beyond the hedges, a mouse scurries across the open threshold of the warehouse, and four artists move around the space, pounding and drilling on freshly installed sheetrock. This volunteer crew is putting the finishing touches on the first local art exhibition Swanson has organized, a show titled UltraNormal opening September 11. She is, in fact, the co-founder, along with her partner John P. Corrigan, of a new "nomadic exhibition company" called Radiator.
"It's a be-careful-what-you-wish-for situation," says Swanson when asked how she decided to start such a group, particularly in the Twin Cities, where dance and theater have recently thrived while visual arts exhibitors have struggled to stay in business. "After I graduated [with an M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art], John and I wanted to found a group in New York, somewhere along the Hudson. There are all these little milling towns willing to give money to arts organizations up there....We thought we might set up a kind of Holiday Inn for art. But unfortunately there were no jobs in the region, anywhere, and we put the idea on hold. I decided to move back to Minneapolis and find work."
And work she does. In order to "support her habit," Swanson tends bar, works in her father's fiberglass shop, and teaches a class at her undergraduate alma mater, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, even as she manages to spend thirty hours a week in her studio creating up to 150 paintings a year. She acknowledges that this schedule leaves her very little time to sleep. "But I figure if you're going to play art ball, you have to keep in shape," she says. "I'm 28 now, and I know I don't have much more time to keep up this desperation schedule....It's not a great deal, but my soul's in good shape."
The looming exhibition looks to be in fine condition, as well. There is a clear curatorial vision in the collection of ten young artists from the Twin Cities, Baltimore, and New York, although it is a difficult one to summarize. The pieces are vibrant and humorous, referencing the artists' personal experiences and fetishizing images of ordinary objects. A kind of exuberance spills from the warehouse walls, where artists have hung pieces of all media, and from the ceiling, nooks, and corners, where they have created temporary installations. Though it is Radiator's first public effort, the exhibit is among the best local shows to have run in the past year.
No less notable is the pre-show buzz Swanson and Corrigan have managed to create by circulating sharp-looking exhibition postcards, hand-printed posters, and even matchbooks with the Radiator logo and information. Local media have taken notice: Swanson reports that the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio have expressed an interest in running pieces prior to the show's opening. Swanson has even started to worry that there might be too many attendees at the event--which, among possible problems, is a choice one. This is a far cry from just a few months ago after the Hillcrest Corporation first offered the warehouse to Swanson to use for the show. Back then the space was dirty and poorly lit and lacked proper walls for hanging work. Then artists worried that no one would be interested in seeking out their efforts in such a space. Somehow Swanson and Corrigan have managed to create an event out of thin air.
"I'm a good ass-kicker," Swanson says of her accomplishments in recruiting so many artists, and coordinating the show. "I'm not some kind of guerrilla art activist. I just think if you want something to happen, you just do it."