The Afflicted: McLean artist Pindar Van Arman and his robot Zanelle, which creates paintings based on programmed images.
Diagnosis: Nerd alert. Zanelle’s fans are generally more high-speed than high-art. “Programmers always love it. Software engineers love it. They’re into it and understand it,” says Van Arman. Art types can’t always see the artificial intelligence behind the acrylic. “The average D.C. gallery is very conservative,” explains Van Arman. “They don’t usually understand it.”
Symptoms: Hanging judgment. Though Van Arman has had success selling commissioned, robot-created portraits to private homes, placing Zanelle’s work in galleries has been more difficult. Zanelle’s process—a mix of programming, random choice, and robot error—doesn’t have an obvious niche. “I go to printmaking shows, and they say I’m a painter. It’s a painting robot, right? So I go to paint groups, and they say I am not a painter, that I’m a printmaker,” says Van Arman. “I’m always humiliated.”
Treatment: Eye robot. When Van Arman placed some works in Art Whino’s tech art show, “FLIK Interactive,” last July, gallery owner Shane Pomajambo made sure to make Zanelle’s process as visible as its products. In the gallery, Pomajambo put Van Arman’s robot on display next to its paintings to help spark conversation. “It’s a robot painting, so it brings up the issue, is it art?” says Pomajambo. “And I think art should always ask a question.” But despite Zanelle’s moment in the sun, the recognition ultimately centered on its human programmer. “Pindar jumped right out,” says Pomajambo. “He was the superstar of the show.”
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