Hannah Chinn – Director, James Cohan


Hannah Chinn - Director, James Cohan

Hannah Chinn is a Director at James Cohan, a contemporary art gallery with two locations in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood, and a third gallery space on the Lower East Side. With over 8 years of experience in the gallery sector, Hannah has previously held positions at Nathalie Karg and David Zwirner’s galleries in New York and London. Hannah is one of six co-chairs of the Young Professionals in the Arts, a collective of arts professionals under 40 with an aim to demystify artworld best practices across sectors and topics ranging from registration, art law, insurance, and salary transparency. 

Hannah holds a Masters Honors from the University of St Andrews in Art History and English Literature and a Masters degree in Art History from University College London.

AF: Hi Hannah! We are delighted to chat with you today. To get us started, we would love to know more about your upbringing. Where are you from and what’s the arts community like there? 

HC: Thrilled to be here, thank you so much for having me! 

I was born and raised in New York City, a place with no shortage of arts institutions and access to artistic communities. Beyond that, I grew up in a family for whom art and the arts were very important. While I don’t really recall visiting any commercial galleries before I went away to university, I do have great memories of visiting museums, and very occasionally auctions, when I was quite young. I don’t think I realized there was an artworld per se or that I would find myself working within it but I would say I was exposed to certain elements of it from an early age. 

Zooming out and thinking about art with a lowercase a, my high school had a really excellent and robust art department. I spent a lot of time there. That was a real blessing and a real instigator in fanning the flames of my interest in art. 

AF: What was your first ever job? What did you learn from this experience? 

HC: My first job was as a restaurant hostess. In some ways, good training for being a gallery assistant. You must be organized, quick on your feet, personable, and recall your regulars. My first internship was with an auction house, it was a great experience but I think I learned that it was not necessarily the right environment for me. 

AF: You are an Associate Director and Artist Liaison at James Cohan Gallery! We are curious to know more about your role and what the day-to-day looks like for you. 

HC: Yes! Up until about a week ago I was an Associate Director and Artist Liaison. I have just been promoted to Director but I’ll continue to do many of the things I did before. Working with artists will still be a big part of that. 

Whenever I explain what it is that an Artist Liaison does, I always come back to being a project manager. I work alongside our artists on everything from exhibition planning, production timelines, liaising between the artist and institutions or the artist and the gallery, crafting language for press releases or artwork descriptions, managing their archives, and so on and so forth. 

A typical work day usually starts with arriving at the gallery and catching up with my colleagues – we have a really wonderful and warm team here at James Cohan. Once I have my tea in hand I go through my inbox and put together a to-do list.  I always handwrite a to-do list in my notebook and work through that, adding to it as the day goes on. It’s a good day when I can cross everything off and read every email in my inbox. I am a zero inbox kind of girl. Some days are better than others… 

Once I feel like I’ve answered all of the most pressing inquiries I zoom out and think about all the projects I am currently working on and see if anything needs follow up or attention. I might check in with an artist or take care of some work I’ve put on the back burner.   

AF: What are some of the most challenging aspects of your role? What are some of the most fulfilling aspects? 

HC: I think they’re one in the same. I am someone who likes structure and control but you really have to let that go in this line of work. Things happen, life happens, ideas and circumstances change so you need to be nimble. It’s hard when you’re going through it but it’s really rewarding when everything comes together. 

AF: Tell us about one curatorial project that you are proud of! 

HC: I am very proud of Arcadia and Elsewhere, a really large scale group show I co-organized at James Cohan along with one of the gallery’s partners, David Norr. Coming out of the pandemic, it was really interesting to think about the ways in which our relationship to the land and nature in general has shifted. This exhibition was sort of an exploration of contemporary painters’ experiences of working through that.

You only asked for one but I’m also really proud of a group exhibition I co-curated with Monica Hom at Natalie Karg titled Vanitas. That exhibition opened in December 2021 –  also a pandemic show in many ways –  it was a snapshot of contemporary interpretations of the memento mori.

AF: What does your daily routine look like, and what’s something you hope you can do more of in the coming year? 

HC: This year, I want to keep pushing my boundaries and taking myself out of my comfort zone. 

AF: As you know, Art Frankly is a community that cares about job transparency and supporting fellow art professionals. What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?  

HC: Persistence is key. If you want something you have to keep asking for it. 

I will also say that having a community of colleagues and friends that you can use as a sounding board when you’re stuck or need some advice can be very useful. Have work friends, keep in touch with colleagues when you move on! Those are really special relationships. 

This is something we are working to foster within the Young Professionals in the Arts, a group I co-chair along with Laura Edelman, Malik Al-Mahrouky, Jack Cassou, Savannah Downs, and James Newton. We host quarterly meetings and talks with various arts professionals in an effort not only to create connections but also to forge a judgment free environment for asking questions about the professional best practices for any number of things related to our careers. Art is such a niche and specialized industry, you’re not often taught how to do certain things – like read a contract, frame an artwork, plan lighting design etc – you just kind of end up learning by rote or osmosis. 

AF: How do you think the art world can become more transparent? 

HC: The new salary transparency regulations here in New York are a great step forward. Outside of that, I think mentorship, asking questions, and talking with your peers can also demystify some of the more opaque elements of the artworld. 

AF: What is one Art Industry (or career) resource you love that is accessible to all? 

HC: MoMA’s website has a glossary of “art terms”, which covers a lot of ground. I am still on the hunt for a more technical glossary, if someone knows of one, please reach out. That said, I was recently recommended the Museum Registration Methods 5 (MRM5), which I’ve been told is very useful and comprehensive. This question has just reminded me to order a copy… I’ll report back!

AF: Is there anything we can look forward to for James Cohan or your personal projects in the coming months or year?  

HC: Lots of exciting things are coming up! We recently announced our representation of Alexandre da Cunha, who I’ll be working closely with. Our first exhibition will be in October. James Cohan has a really great Spring / Summer planned with lots of new projects with new collaborators. It’s exciting. Come say hi! 

AF: Thank you, Hannah, for participating in Frank Talks, it has been our pleasure! To finish off, we’re curious: If you could own work by 5 different artists/craftspeople, who would be in your collection?  

HC: Great question. Thinking more historically, I would love to own work by Egon Schiele or Louise Bourgeois. If I’m thinking about artists making work today, maybe Wolfgang Tilmans or Leonard Baby. 

I just bought work by Ken D. Resseger, who had work in Arcadia and Elsewhere, which I’m so thrilled with, and a really whimsical drawing by Jude Griebel from Massey Klein.

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