The art community is generally an open and collaborative space in which artists borrow from each other’s ideas to push boundaries and innovate. Because of this, it might come as a surprise to hear that Anish Kapoor has exclusive license to use the substance Vantablack. This material, developed by Surrey NanoSystems, is perhaps the blackest black available, absorbing up to 99.6% of radiation in the visible light spectrum.
Kapoor is famous for his abstract biomorphic forms. His most famous work, Cloud Gate, is a gigantic bean-shaped stainless steel installment that sits in the center of AT&T Plaza in Chicago, Illinois. Another famous work of his is Descent Into Limbo, a 2.5 meter deep hole that appears to be bottomless due to its extraordinarily dark coloration. An Italian viewer confirmed first-hand that the hole is not never-ending when he fell into it earlier this year, sustaining minor injuries in the process.
Many artists have challenged Kapoor’s exclusive claim to Vantablack. Kapoor argues that his studio’s exclusive licensing to Vantablack is no different than his collaborative efforts with the producers of stainless steel, which is also not open for public use. Artist Christian Furr said, “I’ve never heard of an artist monopolizing a material. This black is like dynamite in the art world…. It isn’t right that it belongs to one man.” Vantablack’s engineering company says they chose Kapoor to work with exclusively because they couldn’t accommodate other artists. Since the material can only be applied by professionals, they decided to invest in an artist who has dedicated much of his work to light reflection and voids.
One artist who took particular offense to the whole situation is Stuart Semple, who outwardly protested Kapoor’s monopolization of Vantablack by creating his own color, “The Pinkest Pink”. He sells the pigment on his website, where he requires purchasers to make a legal declaration that they are not Anish Kapoor. This symbolic one-finger salute aimed at Kapoor was responded to with a literal one. Kapoor posted a picture of his middle finger dipped in the pink and captioned it “up yours”, clearly directed back at Semple.
Although there are some arguments to justify Anish Kapoor’s exclusive use of Vantablack, closing off the art world from experimentation with such a revolutionary and vivid material is a hinderance and shouldn’t be tolerated. It’s unclear whether the whole thing is a publicity stunt and performance art in itself. Public reaction is generally the same as artist response, with numerous art fans blasting Kapoor for sheltering the substance from other use. Many even criticize his artistic use of the material, questioning what he has done besides make holes. Whatever the case might be, the artists who are responding critically to Kapoor’s behavior are fighting a noble battle.