Vantablack is an incredible material. It’s so dark it reflects nearly no light. This has made it appealing to black light fans, scientists, and very clever artists. But a disagreement over which artists should have access to the pigment started a war in February. Over the weekend, two of the main players in that battle got into an e-exchange that highlighted how heated—and silly—the whole debate really is
Vantablack, created by the British company Surrey NanoSystems, is the blackest known substance on earth, absorbing 99.965 percent of all visible radiation. Originally just a remarkable feat of science, Vantablack has slowly rolled into production being deployed for use in the military and aerospace sector. But it was only in February of this year that Surrey NanoSystems made the substance available for other, more whimsical, uses.
Specifically, it was made available for use in artwork, and Anish Kapoor, the sculptor behind that big silvery bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park, secured the exclusive rights. According to Surrey NanoSystems, Kapoor maintains exclusivity because Vantablack “requires specialist application to achieve its aesthetic effect. In addition, the coating’s performance beyond the visible spectrum results in it being classified as a dual-use material that is subject to UK Export Control.”
What all that fancy jargon means is that Vantablack’s use in the aerospace and military industries severely limits how and why you can export it—all samples currently released for exhibition purposes (such as for a school or museum) are to be set in a glass case and only a minute amount is shipped.
Surrey NanoSystems also feels special training is required to use Vantablack for aesthetic (art) reasons, and rather than set up a training program so artists can learn to work with the pigment, just like other artists have learned to work with red hot metal or blinding lasers, Surry NanoSystems would rather train one studio—specifically Kapoor’s studio. How he jumped to the head of the class over other artists has not been revealed.
And specifically that exclusive and secretive relationship with Kapoor has left other artists pretty upset. The hashtag #SharetheBlack on Instagram and Twitter has been filled, for months, with annoyed artists and art fans.
Last month, one artist decided to do something about it. Stuart Semple is a British artist based out of London and Dorset and known for his large-scale canvases and big public art works. He isn’t the kind of guy that wants art to be hidden away or mediums to be restricted in their uses. While Surrey Nanosystems has given its reasons for the Vantablack exclusivity deal, Semple gave Gizmodo his own thoughts on the subject:
He’s [Kapoor] signed an exclusive agreement with the creators of VantaBlack which blocks any other artist from using it. Nobody forced him or them to enter into an agreement like that. It’s a heinous ego driven pact which stops every other artist after him from working with the inventors of Vantablack on art projects. This is the first time in history all artists have been banned from using a substance. Nobody else is banned only artists that’s a very dodgy way to be going about things.
In response to Kapoor’s “heinous ego driven pact” Semple created his own pigment, The World’s Pinkest Pink, which features the following disclaimer:
we’re not actually sure if this is the worlds pinkest pink ever, it could well be! It’s the pinkest we could come up with, and we’ve not seen anything pinker.
Then Semple made it available for sale on his website. But if you scrolled down the product page you would notice one very important agreement that’s required if you want to actually buy a jar: You could not purchase The World’s Pinkest Pink if you are named Anish Kapoor, or if you plan to give the pigment to Anish Kapoor.
*Note: By adding this product to your cart you confirm that you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated to Anish Kapoor, you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor. To the best of your knowledge, information and belief this paint will not make it’s way into that hands of Anish Kapoor.
Kapoor, one of the most well-known artists working today, holder of the exclusive rights to one of the most fascinating pigments ever produced, recipient of multiple prestigious awards and British knighthood, naturally responded to Semple’s new pigment with a super classy Instagram post a few days ago.
Semple has since responded to Kapoor’s affront with his own digit-based witticism.
Yeah, that’s not some crappy CGI. That’s Semple’s fingers covered in what appears to be the blackest substance on earth. Though Emily Mann, his colleague at his studio, told Gizmodo, “For obvious reasons we can’t say if Stuart is in possession of Vantablack.”
As for the dustup itself, Semple said he would characterize it more as “a petty hissy fit than a feud. Anish is the one that’s deprived the artistic community of the black, stolen our pink and given us the middle finger, we’ve just been making cool brightly coloured glittery stuff.”