Aluminium foil coated in Vantablack (image via Wikipedia)

Aluminium foil coated in Vantablack (all images via Wikipedia)

Anish Kapoor now owns the exclusive rights to the world’s darkest material — a claim that, naturally, is pissing off other artists. The material is the very sexy Vantablack, known as the blackest black out there — much blacker than a panther swimming in a tarpit, the Ayam Cemami, or your wardrobe during your middle school goth phase. A substance developed by scientists at Surrey NanoSystems in 2014, Vantablack essentially absorbs all light — 99.965% of radiation, to be exact; even when coated on a textured and shiny surface such as aluminum, it creates an abyss free of creases that many have compared to a black hole.

Vantablack (click to enlarge)

Vantablack (click to enlarge)

Kapoor had announced his intentions to use the substance shortly after its creation, but he evidently felt he had to do more and claim it as his own, in the process barring others from using it. According to the Daily Mail, the artist Christian Furr — largely known for being the youngest artist to paint the Queen of England — had intended to use the material in a series of paintings and has expressed his outrage at being restricted to using less intense blacks.

“I’ve never heard of an artist monopolizing a material,” Furr told the Daily Mail. “Using pure black in an artwork grounds it.

“All the best artists have had a thing for pure black — Turner, Manet, Goya,” he said. “This black is like dynamite in the art world. We should be able to use it. It isn’t right that it belongs to one man.”

Kapoor often plays with how we perceive the materiality of objects and has noted that his affinity for the world’s darkest material stems from its ability to disorient viewers.

“The nanostructure of Vantablack is so small that it virtually has no materiality,” he told Artforum. “It’s thinner than a coat of paint and rests on the liminal edge between an imagined thing and an actual one. It’s a physical thing that you cannot see, giving it a transcendent or even transcendental dimension, which I think is very compelling.”

Researchers over at Surrey NanoSystem are evidently big fans of Kapoor’s work; the company’s founder and chief technology officer, Ben Jensen, described his art as “infectious.”

“He has an amazing ability to see things that other people don’t and he’s famous for his work in reflections and voids,” Jensen told the New York Times in 2014. “We never imagined we would be involved in something like that, but his ideas are infectious, and my research scientists love that their work could be used this way.”

Any artists tempted to use the material anyway should be wary of the consequences: if news reaches Kapoor that someone is treading on his artistic territory, it would not be out of character for him to swiftly threaten to sue the offender.

Update, 3/2: Surrey NanoSystems has clarified that Anish Kapoor holds exclusive rights to Vantablack only in the field of art. The company issued an extensive FAQ on its website that explains more about the material and its terms of use.

Correction: This article originally mislabeled Vantablack as a pigment rather than a material. We regret the error, and it has been fixed.

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

34 replies on “Anish Kapoor Gets Exclusive Rights to the World’s Darkest Material [UPDATED]”

  1. Monopolizing a pigment is pretty selfish behavior–but I hope Kapoor sees that someone markets a photographic backdrop made with this material.

  2. “It’s thinner than a coat of paint and rests on the liminal edge between an imagined thing and an actual one. It’s a physical thing that you cannot see, giving it a transcendent or even transcendental dimension, which I think is very compelling.”

    Right. A transcendental imagined AND actual thing.

    Since perception is reality, all things are imagined and actual. So Anish is the 1% of the art world with vanta black…and the other 99% of us must suck it up and deal. I don’t know who Anish is or any of his work. I don’t personally care about having access to vanta black for my work, but I do care that he’s pouring out this kind of pretentious dribble to make himself/his work seem more compelling and believes he transcends all other artists because of his exclusive access to it.


  3. its all theatre. I want to see the lawsuit where kapoor attempts to defend this copyright. It will be tossed out of court in twenty min.

  4. This was published by the equivalent of the National Enquirer. Go to Surrey NanoSystems page. They have a good statement about the hoax that is being reported as fact from a trash tabloid.

    1. Sorry, how is this a hoax? I have been through the SNS page and on their FAQs page they openly state that Anish Kapoor has the exclusive rights for the use of the pigment in the field of art (although who is to decide what is “art” is not mentioned by them). The only reference to incorrect information that I can find is on their “media” page here:
      They highlight the incorrect information stating that 1) vantablack is not a paint and 2) that it is definitely not used to paint stealth bombers. They say nothing about the exclusive artistic use of the material by Kapoor being false. Perhaps you could include a link rather than vaguely sending people to their page.

      SNS does state that they gave Kapoor exclusive rights to explore the use of vantablack in art applications, and that it requires very specialised and specific tools and techniques to apply it. This to me sounds reasonable, if and only if, after Kapoor has explored it’s potential the technical use information is then publicly released and the material becomes available to all artists.

      1. Go to their Facebook page and look at the discussion there. You posted a page that goes to articles from others. Go to the FAQ section of surrey nano systems. They discuss the fact it is not a paint.

        1. Yes, I pointed out in my comment that they state that vantablack is not a pigment or paint and that it is not used in painting stealth bombers. There is no hoax regarding the fact that only Anish Kapoor has access to the material. I would argue with your use of the word hoax. A hoax would suggest something of the magnitude that the article had made up that vantablack s-vis even exists or that it is available to all artists and not just Kapoor exclusively. Yes, the article was poorly researched and the nature of vantablack completely misunderstood by the author in the Daily Mail (a paper not quite in league with the News of the World, as you put it). It seems that what is under discussion here is whether or not a single artist should be given exclusive rights to any material. It seems you have totally missed the point being discussed in these comments.

    1. What a silly statement.

      Please elaborate. Just what if it WERE called African-American?

      And where does it say it was he who named it?

        1. Gee . . . That really hurts.
          A fool . . . Ouch!

          You are so very articulate.
          Please elaborate (the bate?)

          How clever of you . . . well, just silly (and yet again).

  5. Kapoor should be ashamed to monopolize this pigment. It’s nothing short of greed and piggish.

      1. How is the material applied? The SNS site says that it requires special application methods. Also, how costly is it?

  6. Not sure what’s the deal behind this. But it’s not uncommon for dye makers of histories to sell a type of pigmented material exclusively. The idea of a color has always been as free as the air we breathe, but to have pure 100% oxygen, we still have to buy, albeit not too expensively, but still.

    Maybe this is just another challenge for more people to come up with other ways to make something else as black. That said, i’m not sure how our Mr. Kapoor plans to measure his “pure blackness”, since in art, “pure” scarcely stays pure.

    1. It seems the stuff is not very durable.

      Kapoor’s clownish monopoly of this material will help make up for his lack of imagination and talent.

  7. Mine is a Practical question. What are it’s environmental limits? Say I wanted to paint it as a backdrop for a solar water heat collector. Can it stand the humidity of an enclosed unit? How about environmental extremes of both temperatures and humidity, can it be used outdoors? How abrasion resistance? It could really help all of us in the alternative energy world if someone could answer me.

  8. So, who’s going to stop me mixing it up? I make my own paint, and anything is possible! Are they going to remove my paintings from a gallery wall, because someone has an exclusive right to a colour in it? There is no way anyone can compel me not to use that colour, and Kapoor must be out of his mind to think artists would sit back and have him dictate to them.

    1. Ah, good luck with creating your own nano particles. The point is that as an artist you cannot purchase the product from SNS and therefore you cannot use it.

  9. Not sure why Kapoor would do this? seems like it limits artistic expression… while i like Kapoor, i think he is doing the design/art field a huge disservice.

  10. If you have to use contracts to stop all other artists from using a certain pigment, then you’re not much of an artist. A true artist encourages all art.

  11. What a jackass. Getting exclusive rights to something like this is downright selfish, probably due to the fact that he knows other artists will utilise it in a much better, less pretentious way.

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