Ask Nadine Knotzer about her favorite memories from the early years of running Dubai's Carbon 12 gallery and her bright face breaks into a crazy-wide grin. “The Taiwan National Museum acquisition,” she says, referring to when the prominent institution snapped up a piece by American-flag collagist Sara Rahbar. “That was a big deal,” chimes in her cofounder Kourosh Nouri, the MBA of the partnership.
That 2010 sale, a year after the gallery opened, took months, he adds. But since then the Iranian-born dealers have sold work to the British Museum and the Centre Pompidou, among other institutions, Knotzer notes. “But the first acquisition? You really go out and celebrate,” she says.
Knotzer started the gallery almost right out of school, and is glad she didn’t know then what she knows now: Just how hard it would be. “I might not have done it!”
“Ninety percent of it was passion," she recalls. "It was exactly the opposite of the glitter and glamour and so much money" that outsiders might expect from Dubai. "For the first six months nobody walked into the gallery. Every artist had to be introduced, not just to the Emirati, but to the expats.” These explanations even included names like Olaf Breuning, whom the gallery (located at Unit 37 of the thrumming Alserkal Avenue in Dubai) also reps.
It didn't help that Carbon 12 launched just as the region was hit by a severe recession. What turned things around? Their global program made them stand out in the Gulf. “International collectors found us online and, bit by bit, the local crowd showed up," says Knotzer. "Now, we are busy.”
The pair are regular exhibitors at Art Dubai. But a couple of years ago, Knotzer called NADA up, asking, “Would you even be interested in a Dubai gallery?” The fair was. This is the gallery’s second year at NADA New York, and Knotzer says she liked the look of it very much this year—it was as if every dealer had hung one less thing in their booth “to look one bit better."
As for Carbon 12's booth itself, the paintings by Bernhard Buhmann (priced at $2,000 to $10,000) and Rahbar sculptures ($25,000 to $50,000) have been a hit. “The doors opened at noon and we had sales at 12:15 p.m.,” she says.