Kourosh Nouri of Carbon 12 Gallery in Dubai

Out in the exotic, desert landscape of Dubai a blip is growing ever larger on the international art world’s radar. In the cosmopolitan metropolis that is Dubai, the second largest city in the country known as the United Arab Emirates, which sits southeast of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, a host of galleries, artistic institutions (such as Art Dubai), patrons, and local artists are making their name known in the international and local art market. Dubai might have a few more years before a certifiable recognition as such, but with galleries such as Carbon 12 and about 20 other galleries who are setting up shop in the revitalized Al Quoz industrial zone, the contemporary art scene in this distant Middle Eastern locale is growing fast. Carbon 12, which opened its doors in 2008, was co-founded by Kourosh Nouri who always dreamt of opening a gallery and Nadine Knotzer. Carbon 12 represents established and emerging artists and major artists like Olaf Breuning. We got a chance to speak with Kourosh Nouri, director of Carbon 12, about his gallery, his thoughts about the art scene in Dubai, and his incredibly ambitious plans for the future. 

PAS UN AUTRE: Can you remember or talk a little bit about your first introduction to the world of art?

KOUROSH NOURI: Professionally, it was when I started to collect (very) modestly in the mid 90's. I started in Iran, with "super emerging" Iranian artists, at a time no one was even looking at this country/region...My first significant professional steps where in 2007, even though in early 2000 I was already following super closely the art scene, where the idea of wanting to open a gallery was growing in my mind. I have spent altogether over a year and half of intensive research, and heavy benchmarking before I even set a date (nov. 2008) for the opening of the space. The whole adventure started in 2007... and, it was hard to keep my mouth shut!

On a personal basis I fell in love with Brancusi's muse when I was in my early teens... so, my love of art started already more than 20 years ago. I also remember the first art book my parents offered me when I was 6, "history of modern art" by Arnason and in English. I still have the book in the gallery's bookshelves...

AUTRE: Why did you want to become a gallery director?

NOURI: It is much worse, I wanted to own a gallery, and that already since 10 years! The why is, I guess, for the passion I discovered for contemporary art. Now that I look back, I am proud to say that not once I regretted my decision. So far, except commercially maybe (!), everything is going according to plans... I have the most beautiful profession in the world, despite all the ups and downs, and I am surrounded by magnificent artworks of amazing artists I am proud to represent.

AUTRE: Can you talk a little bit about Carbon 12 Gallery?

NOURI: Carbon 12 opened its doors in November 2008. We started the concrete planning of the gallery, with my partner Nadine (Knotzer) already in 2007, and in January 2008 we decided to open the gallery in Dubai. The choice of the artists was a bit surreal in a sense... we listed our "dream team", from museum shows, art fairs, books, and gallery shows. From very early stage we wanted to have a wide program, in a way very painterly, but comprehensive and rich... hard to get bored with all those amazing artists. The process was beautiful and organic...Earning money is a must, but a must for the big picture, the big picture being this fabulous work we are dedicating ourselves to. The name Carbon comes from the most widespread element in nature, the common element to all living being, loved the name for decades, and in French literature Edmond Rostand in Cyrano de Bergerac named the captain of the musketeers Carbon de Casttel-jaloux... This masterpiece of literature was always in my eyes the reference in arts in general. That's how the name came to me, and since it is super catchy and I didn't want to call my gallery Nouri Falegari-Knotzer contemporary arts or projects (We avoided that one!!!), here we are with Carbon 12, and 12 as the non-radioactive isotope of Carbon.

AUTRE: Carbon 12 represents a lot of emerging artists as well as established artists – what do you look for in an artist or what is the X factor an artist needs to be represented by your gallery?

NOURI: Here again, we are really blessed by the artists who have decided to trust Carbon 12. I like the notion of x factor for artists... well, never thought about it that way... now that you put it, yes; crazy talented, professional, multi-layered, and so different one from another, yet a very thin hair connects all our artists together.

AUTRE: I don’t know if you want to talk about this, but art can at times by seen as subversive by some creeds and religious beliefs – do you ever run into any restrictions or censorship when putting on a show?

NOURI: Never faced anything similar here. Having said that, we are also extremely respectful of all cultures and believes, and we don't work with provocation, pure and stupid without any fundament. All our artists have so much more to offer than provocation, so that we face any censorship. Dubai and the UAE is a great country where over 170 nationalities coexist peacefully and harmoniously with each other.

AUTRE: How would you describe the artistic atmosphere of the United Arab Emirates – is there a large “art scene” in Dubai?

NOURI: The art scene is small... still waiting for the real "birth", however there are about a hand full professional and amazing galleries in the country, and these galleries are as well among the top 10 in the region.Naturally, the number of private collectors is relatively small and mainly consisting of expatriates, the few emerging collectors are not enough to be considered as a growing trend... There are no institutions, and corporate collections are totally absent! Fortunately there are a few experts and Artdubai who do an amazing educational job, almost like the missing museums. This will pay off for sure in the next 3-5 years.

AUTRE: Do you have international collectors or is it mainly local connoisseurs of contemporary art – would it be impolite describe or elaborate upon a typical art collector in Dubai?

NOURI: I love the polite way you pose that question. it almost forces me to be rude and provocative...the collector of Carbon 12 based in the UAE, can be described as follow: under 50 years of age, highly qualified and Europe/US educated professional, with a decent net worth, collecting art since less than 5 years, and very open-minded to any artistic approach, and working tightly with us, and following in average 3-5 of our artists. Many of them, follow us in art fairs, and know the mechanics of a gallery. Dubai art scene & the middle east is very fortunate to be on the radar of lots of international Museums. Many artist represented in the Region or from the region have been selected by famous Museums over the last few years. Our aim is to bring more and more people to Dubai and make them discover the small but amazing art scene we have.

AUTRE: Who are some of your favorite artists working today and why?

NOURI: I genuinely love and respect dearly all the artists we work with... sounds maybe strange, but the roster we have is the "dream team", and in my list I can mention all the artists we represent. This is the magic of contemporary art, the favorite works change, rotate, let you discover more layers...

AUTRE: Carbon 12 visits a lot of the art fairs – why are art fairs important and how would you describe the general milieu?

NOURI: We need to reach out, the art market in the region is too small, a "Waiting for Godot strategy" is not a solution. Also the culture of collecting is still very weak in the region. We also like to put Dubai on the international Art map and make people discover more about it. So far we had great experiences in the past, Art Cologne last year was amazing, "our" Art Dubai is gradually becoming the "Basel" of the region, abc in Berlin was great, and here and there in Viennafair little things happen. Of course we want to start going to our fair wish list, but considering we are turning 4 years old on the 28th of November, we need to be patient.

AUTRE: How would you describe the art market right now and how to do your see it evolving in the future?

NOURI: Slow at this very moment!!! The future is bright, and beautiful though! My gallery opened in 2008, after the financial meltdown... so, euphoria, commercially, is an unknown thing to us. We never faced the heat of 2007-2008 where collectors would fight for every artwork, and galleries were counting sold-out shows one after the other. So, for Carbon 12, every week is a move forward, every acquired collector a blessing, and every exhibition an achievement on out path to become a highly respected international art gallery.

AUTRE: What is the next show on view at Carbon 12 Gallery?

NOURI: We have opened on the 5th of November the fire with James Clar's "Iris was a Pupil"... an incredible show, and the public's as well as the collectors feedbacks has been incredible. In December we will continue with Hazem Mahdy, one of our emerging artist, and January will see the well expected first solo of Anahita Razmi at Carbon 12. This will coincide with her solo show at the Stuttgart museum of art. Olaf Breuning promised us a "Dubai" show for March. A lot of good things ahead then...

AUTRE: What does the future look like for Carbon 12?

NOURI: Shiny and warm like the weather here! Our program is always set two years ahead, and we will have many exciting shows. We want to make out of every single exhibition the best possible one, in terms of quality, content, and critical value... We really aim to make sure that every artist who leaves Dubai, sits in the plane thinking about the next exhibition with us at Carbon 12. We also hope to connect more and more with international institutions, and place our artists in museum shows, and museum collections. So far, we are really happy about our regular fairs, the top ones being Art Dubai, and Art Cologne, and maybe in the future we will be adding a few more on our list of international participations.