SEE SPOT PAINT
New York magazine|January 17 - 30, 2022
Agnieszka Pilat has become the Silicon Valley elite’s favorite artist. Even The Matrix’s Neo owns her work.
SHAWN MCCREESH

WHEN I MEET Agnieszka Pilat, a pixie­ ish Polish émigré who has become the court painter of the potentates of Silicon Valley, she has just returned from Necker Island, the private Caribbean domain of Richard Branson. “I’m always the poorest person in the room” at places like that, she says with a laugh, curling her paint­flecked Yves Saint Laurent sneakers beneath her on the couch as she absentmindedly twists and untwists her hair. We’ve met up in her Chelsea studio, in which paintings of robotic limbs in repose dot the concrete walls. She has another studio in San Francisco. In each, she kennels a duplicate Spot, her 70­pound emergency­yellow cybernetic dog, muse, studio assistant (it paints, too), and, in some sense, protector, both on loan to her from Boston Dynamics, where she was once artist in residence.

Despite her Chelsea digs near the blue­chip Gagosians and Zwirners, Pilat does not have much of a reputation in the mainstream art world. She hasn’t been sought after in big biennials and isn’t owned by major museums, and the critics mostly ignore her. But the 48­-year-­old is beloved by a group of very well­off men—her collectors are mostly men—who don’t participate much in the art world and are likely turned off by its snobberies and sanctimonies. Instead, she puts Silicon Valley’s Ayn Rand–ian, futurist ideologies into paint. Her work can even be found, if you look carefully, decorating the sets of the new Matrix movie. And she’s definitely not being ironic about any of it.

“I am always that kid who grew up in Poland, in communism,” she says, “and for me, America and American aristocracy, which you guys don’t have—aristocracy like we have in Europe—the aristocracy here is the industry. So I think it’s impor­tant to give moral tribute to people in tech­nology.” She is merrily in service to the tech nomenklatura at a time when much of the country has come to despise its members for the forces they have unleashed on society and for their obscene levels of wealth.

Pilat describes Craig McCaw, the press­ averse telecommunications billionaire who also purchased his own island, as her top patron and “angel.” Another collector is John Krafcik, the former CEO of Waymo, Google’s self­driving­car unit. “Agnieszka’s work captures the magic of technology in a human, heroic way, and I think that helps us all better relate to it,” he says.

Krafcik introduced her to Yuri Milner, the reclusive Russian Israeli venture­ capital billionaire. He has reportedly sprinkled Kremlin cash across Silicon Valley, where he spent $100 million on a nouveau château in Los Altos Hills. “He’s very hard to reach,” says Pilat. “Even his billionaire neighbors don’t know him.” Milner commissioned a painting of a piece of machinery found in self­driving cars. “He liked it,” she says, “but he’ll never hang the painting. He never displays real work. His whole house is like a digital Sistine Chapel, so you come into the house and it’s like a very opulent kind of cathedral­ looking thing, and you think all these are paintings, but then everything changes. They’re huge, like, the whole ceiling—it’s all LEDs.” She says he’ll probably just keep the analog painting in storage.

What is it like dealing with these dudes? “They’re all egomaniacs,” she says, sounding thoroughly amused, even a bit affectionate. “They’re all wrapped up in themselves. It’s like talking to a fish out of water. They just don’t get it.”

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