Peripatetic Georgian artist Andro Wekua on work, war and wandering.
Andro Wekua’s Berlin studio is located on a curve of the River Spree near the Tiergarten park. This used to be quite a backwater, but escalating property prices and proximity to the river have turned it into prime real estate turf. The studio is in the remains of an old red brick building, a surviving wing of a larger industrial complex, surrounded by seven construction sites with billboards for future co-working spaces and relocation invitations. As he shows me up to his second-floor atelier above a small printing works (and opposite the studio of British artist Angela Bulloch), Wekua explains he doesn’t expect to be here much longer – ‘the owner is here almost every day with potential buyers’ – but he doesn’t seem unduly concerned.
Wekua is aged just 40, but has been well known in the art world since his twenties. MoMA and the Saatchi Gallery own several of his pieces, he has a solo show currently running in Moscow, and two coming up in Berlin and Zurich. He may not be fully blue chip quite yet, but he’s not far off.
Other big-name artists in Berlin, such as Tomás Saraceno, Ai Weiwei and Olafur Eliasson, have factory-like studios with dozens of staff, but Wekua’s main atelier is almost empty, save for a number of modestly sized paintings in progress propped against the walls and a couple of tables covered in half-squeezed tubes of oil paint. The air is thick with the comforting aroma of turpentine. There are two chairs, which look like they came out of a skip, and a crate of bottled water. But no assistants scurrying around, no sign of hectic preparation for the shows – just the artist on his own.
Wekua explains, almost apologetically, that this isn’t his only studio, just the one he paints in at the moment, and that he has sent his two assistants home for the day. His sculptural works are all made at the Kunstbetrieb workshops in Basel and his films in another specialist studio in Zurich. He seems to be constantly on the move, dividing his time between these cities and, more recently, his country of birth, Georgia. ‘So far, I have had no problem living in different places,’ he says, ‘but I am starting to realise it would be good to decide so I am not scattered all over the world the whole time.’
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