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Artist Gets Exclusive Rights to Blackest Black Ever Created

Is it innovation in art or a publicity stunt?

Vantablack. (Photo: Surrey NanoSystems/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

A British artist has secured exclusive rights to the blackest material ever produced, setting off a controversy in the art world, The Daily Mail reported on Saturday.

Anish Kapoor has expressed interest in the material, known as Vantablack, for years. The material absorbs 99.96 percent of the light that hits it, a figure Vantablack's maker says is the highest in the world, making it the blackest black ever created. The company, Surrey NanoSystems, had originally developed the material for military use and to help cloak satellites. 

Kapoor’s exclusive rights to the material has angered some in the art world, who say that it should be free for anyone to use.

“I've never heard of an artist monopolizing a material. Using pure black in an artwork grounds it,” artist Christian Furr told The Daily Mail. “All the best artists have had a thing for pure black—Turner, Manet, Goya. This black is like dynamite in the art world.”

Even so, the move may be as much about marketing for Vantablack’s maker, Surrey NanoSystems, than about anything else.

“It is a clever move by NanoSystems to associate their material with the greatest colourist in 21st-century art,” Jonathan Jones, a writer for The Guardian, said Monday. “This creator of sublime chromatic effects is just the guy to make Vantablack look like the new black.”

Kapoor, who was knighted in 2013, is probably best known for designing the 376-foot tall ArcelorMittal Orbit, which was built for the 2012 London Olympics and is Britain’s largest piece of public art.

Kapoor told Artforum last year that for him Vantablack represented a “new space” in art.  

“The nanostructure of Vantablack is so small that it virtually has no materiality,” Kapoor said. “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.”

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