A Banker of Arts: Ethan Cohen on Investing in Chinese Art

From ShanghaiEye

In the past 2 years, the world was changed by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions like mask wearing and social distancing hit hard on businesses. However, some of the industries have figured out ways to adapt to the new normal.



Shanghaieye.com visited the Ethan Cohen Gallery in New York City, one of the first galleries in the United States to specialize in contemporary Chinese art. Its owner Ethan Cohen calls himself a “banker to the art world.”





Before the pandemic, Cohen produced a number of noteworthy art exhibitions and projects and accrued a large portfolio of artists from Asia. As an art advocate and educator, Cohen helped to establish the Asian Contemporary Art Consortium in 2002, a group comprising museum curators, collectors and gallery directors dedicated to advancing Asian art in New York City.




His gallery has participated regularly in international art fairs in Miami, New York, Basel, Beijing and Melbourne. It also publishes prints of the work of some of the leading Chinese artists.




But during the pandemic, social distancing was strictly reinforced in New York. Without large numbers of visitors in his gallery, Cohen, who once considered a banking career before entering the art world, came up with a new business strategy.





“We have really become art advisors, or financial advisors, almost bankers to the art world,” he told Shanghaieye, “Art is a terrific diversifier for portfolio.”




With 35 years of experience of art buying, what Cohen does is to identify young, talented artists, and advise his client to “buy in early.” If these artists become successful in the future, his clients can always sell some of their pieces and reinvest into other young artists, while keeping the rest for themselves to enjoy.




And in all the contemporary arts, Cohen favors the ones from the East. “I think some of the art dealers didn’t have the understanding how incredibly powerful and advanced that was,” he said.




With thousands of years of accumulation, Chinese contemporary artists are highly diversified with 2 major styles, according to Cohen. First is the ones that embrace Western culture, utilizing bold brushes and paints. The other is the ones that mix the West into the East, utilizing the traditional ink and shading.




As a veteran in contemporary art, Cohen saw great potential in Chinese artists, especially in those from younger generations. 





“I’ve been lucky that I have many artists now who have been very successful in the market. We’ve had Wang Keping and Qiu Zhijie.” Cohen said, “A lot of the artists in the very beginning were all poor. And all of a sudden, the Chinese economy started to grow, then the business people started to buy Chinese art.”




“And that helps to develop a market.”




Cohen’s understanding of Chinese art and society partly came from his family tradition. His father, Jerome A. Cohen was a Harvard Law professor who advocated for normalized relations with China in the 1960s. Under his father’s influence, Cohen went to Harvard to study Eastern Asia culture, and became a member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations in 2010.




At the end of the interview, Cohen delivered his best wishes to Chinese people.




“I welcome you to visit New York, and happy Lunar New Year!” He said in Chinese.






SMG News、 ShanghaiEye.com   Yi Pan, Meixing Ren Contributed to this article


February 19, 2022