Can You Own A Material? A Color?

(post 4 Daniel Knapmiller)


I have written about Vantablack in the past.  However, Vantablack reentered the news-cycle earlier this year for new reasons.  The material itself is not of particular interest –  here, instead I raise questions about ownership of material.  Artist Anish Kapoor has obtained exclusive rights to the Vantablack pigment – no one else can paint with it.

[If you are unfamiliar with Vantablack – – the coating is known as the darkest material in the world, the blackest black – achieved by a series of ‘nanotubes’ that trap incoming light]

Sir Anish Kapoor, the British-Indian sculptor, known for – among other things- his Cloud Gate piece (the mirrored bean which is permanently installed in Chicago’s Millennium Park) has claimed the material/color for himself.

Vantablack’s visual effect has been compared to a black hole and Kapoor is known for producing work concerned with reflection and void. The developers of Vantablack (Surrey NanoSystems) are known to be fans of the artist and have clarified that “Kapoor holds exclusive rights only in the field of art.”  Plenty of artists find the idea of an individual artist monopolizing a material (or color) unjust.  Fellow British 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.  We should be able to use it.  It isn’t right that it belongs to one man.”

Is it ethical for one artist to have exclusive rights to a material/color?  Who wouldn’t appreciate the same exclusivity that Kapoor has?  Would our consideration of this ownership question be different if Anish Kapoor had developed the material himself?  Considering that Surrey NanoSystems developed the material for more utilitarian purposes (e.g. astronomical imaging) does that change their right to decide how they allow their material to be employed artistically?


Anish Kapoor at the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin in 2008


One comment

  1. quachies

    Jenni Quach | Comment 2

    The idea of one individual owning the rights to use a colour/material simply sounds ridiculous to me. In fact, regarding Vantablack, it is unfair to everyone in the art industry and the material; no one can use the material and it does not get the change to evolve because it is limited to one user, Anish Kapoor. It would be a different story if Kapoor allowed others to use the material, but it seems like he does not. Could you imagine if this happened with other materials?

    Imagine if an architect had exclusive rights to using glass; no other architect will be able to use it in their designs. Seeing how glass is used in practically every building, the individual could monopolize the material. Meaning, he or she could raise the price and make a fortune out of it. As I have mentioned before, the material would not get the chance to evolve either. The material would only be limited to the creativity of the single architect. Unless the architect is incredibly creative or has an extensive knowledge of science, the glass will be unevolved—there will not be different types of glass or its applications will be limited.

    It is interesting how you bring the ethical aspects of using a material rather than what the material can do. It gives a new perspective to it.

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