Artistic Unity: Art in the UAE: Interview with Carbon 12’s Nadine Knotzer

This article appeared in The Artistic Unity Issue #67 which was dedicated to the art scene in the UAE in which we unravel the threads of unity by exploring the perspectives of various stakeholders within the UAE’s art community. Through insightful interviews with galleries, art institutions, and auction houses, a vivid mosaic emerged, depicting how unity has been woven into the fabric of the art scene.

Kourosh Nouri & Nadine founders of Carbon 12. Courtesy of Carbon 12.
Kourosh Nouri & Nadine founders of Carbon 12. Courtesy of Carbon 12.

Can you share your journey into bringing art to the UAE? How did it start, what inspired you to do so and what were the challenges?

It started out of sheer passion for contemporary art, and the deep desire to formulate and visualise a universal trans-continental programme of relevant contemporary practitioners. The idea took form in 2007, and we started to work on building the gallery in 2008 while we did months and months of research on the ground. And suddenly there we were: we opened Carbon 12 to the public on November 28, 2008!

Which artists were the primary focus of your efforts? Did your choice change over time?

We trusted our knowledge and research, and since then we have really stuck to our guns. Anahita Razmi, Philip Mueller, Bernhard Buhmann and Michael Sailstorfer were all with us from the very beginning, and artists like André Butzer or Olaf Breuning joined our programme in the first founding year. Then, once the programme is running and we are able to fine-tune it, it becomes a fabulous exercise to add the artists we have the privilege to represent. Keep in mind that in 2008 Sarah Almehairi was 10 years old, Monika Grabuschnigg was barely starting university and Amba Sayal-Bennett was in high school. Expanding the programme carefully is important to us. In the past two years we have had the pleasure of adding Anthony Akinbola to the programme with two new artists joining by 2024. Now as we mark our 90th exhibition in November 2023, we have our hands on the third publication of this year alone, and we have a collaborative space, DIANA, in New York on Henry Street. We have lost count of art fairs, but we are probably past the threshold of 50 participation. Our ‘grade report’ is factually and undeniably rich.

When the Ground Was,2022, installation shot at Carbon 12. Courtesy of Carbon 12.
When the Ground Was, 2022, installation shot at Carbon 12. Courtesy of Carbon 12.

Could you outline the key elements of your gallery programme and how it evolved?

The programme is about the global reach of the art, and the bridges you create. It is very universal, and all our artists have liberated themselves from any cultural weight. Their respective practices are understood by everyone. Simplicity in art is a very complicated notion, but I believe they all have mastered it. We have trusted what they do and tried to be the best partners they can have. Loving our jobs makes things easier, and now after 15 years of hard work, our expertise is there to speak for us.
In what ways has this endeavour played a role in nurturing the art scene in the UAE?
To date, we are still the only contemporary art gallery in the region with such an international programme. Going back to 2009, showing artists like Katherine Bernhardt and André Butzer was very daring and easily 10 to 12 years ahead of the contemporary art market, internationally. The programme we have built and its consistency are what would be our legacy in the UAE. Our exhibitions, publications, talks and events nurture the local art scene. We helped put the UAE on the international art map and created a home for many.

Can you provide an overview of the current state-of-the-art scene in the UAE?

It is a very respectful and slowly accepting environment. Luckily, we are approaching a level of maturity among the galleries, and it seems the number of serious young collectors is growing. The engagement of the UAE’s younger generation is what encourages us.

What are your expectations regarding the evolution of the art scene in the UAE over the next two decades?

The potential is enormous. I believe the next two to three years will finally mark the year zero of the national/regional market with the ‘takeover’ of the young Emirati and UAE-born generation who will be in command of the family businesses.


About Nadine Knotzer

The driving force behind Carbon 12 since its inception in 2008, Nadine Knotzer is proud of the gallery’s distinct international approach in terms of its contemporary art programme.

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