How To Become A Dealer: Hannah Traore 

Tune in to our ongoing series featuring some of the most exciting gallerists from across the globe. Here, we sit down to ask them how they run successful galleries so you can learn how you can too.  

Portrait of Hannah Traore by Annabel Willis

Hannah Traore is a Toronto-born, New York based gallerist who opened Hannah Traore Gallery at the age of 27. Traore has made it her mission to sustain a gallery which advocates for and celebrates artists who’ve been historically marginalised from the mainstream narrative and art world. Today, Emily Burke and Hannah Traore sit down to discuss Traore’s motives and inspirations behind opening a gallery in Lower Manhattan.

So many things. At the end of the day, I opened a gallery so I could do whatever I wanted. I saw things that I didn’t like in my industry and I developed so many new ideas; ultimately the only way I felt that I could implement them and do things differently was to do it myself.

I was at home during the pandemic and had a lot of time to reflect with my family. I decided to follow my dream of opening a gallery and focus on this project with very few distractions, which was a huge blessing. There’s never a “good” time to take such a wild risk, but that seemed like the best time I was going to get. And it was.

It is, actually! I wanted to be in a neighbourhood with other galleries so mine would be easily accessible for people gallery hopping. The traditional gallery hopping neighbourhoods of Chelsea and Tribeca are a bit too old guard for my vibe – both have incredible galleries that I adore, but I think I fit in better with the spaces in on the Lower East Side. I also wanted a location where I would get a lot of non art world foot traffic as well. The LES is perfect because not only is it a gallery neighbourhood, but it’s also just a really fun and exciting neighbourhood with tons of energy.

We focus on the quality of the artist’s work, not their identity. Yes, my artists are all from historically underrepresented groups, but that’s not why their work is on view in my space – I’ve selected my artists because they’re incredible and they inspire me. We also don’t abide by traditional gallery rules; we show what we want, even if it crosses industries or is what the art world would call “craft”… again, I do what I want.

I started with a mix of artists, both emerging and mid career. One of the artists that I started with even before I opened my doors, Misha Japanwala, just opened her solo exhibition!

Deciding which artist’s to work with is really a gut feeling… How I feel when I look at their work, when I hear them speak about their work, etc. I’ve noticed a pattern though – I tend to feel drawn to work that I feel I haven’t seen before. Whether that’s the artist’s particular use of colour, their processes, aesthetic, conceptual backing or anything else.

It’s really important to me to have wonderful relationships with my artists. Often these relationships have developed into friendships that I know will last for life and sometimes they remain as beautiful working relationships with a lot of mutual respect. Even the artists that I’m no longer working with keep me updated on everything and get excited when we see each other. I’ve been very lucky so far.

In a lot of cases, the two kinds of relationships are very similar! I absolutely adore my clients. I feel that they also really love and support my artist, as well as the gallery as a whole. Spending time with my clients and really getting to know them and their collections means a lot to me.

More privately, I’ve had some really beautiful interactions with my artists before, during and after their shows. Moments of us crying together in gratitude and joy. There’s nothing that makes me more proud than my artist feeling supported and loved. More publicly, Frieze Los Angeles. I was shocked and so honoured to be included in the Focus Section a year after opening the gallery. I met so many incredible artists, collectors and other gallerists there and was even included on ARTnews’ best booths list! It was one of my favourite weeks.

Everyone has blind spots. Learning what they are and figuring out how to offset them is always a challenge. Being a young, Black woman in a predominantly, old white male space has also been a challenge. Honestly, it’s a challenge every single day to prove that I’m worthy of being here and that I actually have something to offer. I’ve also found it hard to be able to be myself and be social and enjoy my life while also being taken seriously professionally. Both can be true at the same time, but I think people sometimes assume otherwise. Just because I’m out and about enjoying my life doesn’t mean that I don’t work every single second of the day. I think proving myself in general has been the biggest challenge.

I’m lucky to have many mentors and I couldn’t have done it without any of them. My biggest inspiration is Linda Goode Bryant – she opened Just Above Midtown Gallery in the 1970s in her early 20’s and did whatever she wanted. MoMA just had a beautiful exhibition celebrating the legacy of JAM.

 I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History. My plan was to get my Masters and possibly my PhD, but I opened the gallery before that could happen. In terms of the knowledge that I needed to become an actual gallerist, I’ve been learning from my mentors and from past work experience and I’m still learning everyday.

It doesn’t all have to be perfect to start. Do it out of your apartment. Do it online. Do what you can and people will see your vision. Also, ask for as much advice from as many people as possible. 

Hectic, fun, fulfilling.