A piece of Vantablack sits on a sheet of aluminum foil.

Image: Vantablack over aluminum foil | NPR

The artistic community is outraged over a color that’s actually a new material. A new product called Vantablack is considered the blackest black in the world, absorbing a whopping 99.96% of light. To look at the stuff is to think you’re looking at a small hole in the universe. The special pigment was designed by Surrey Nanosystems for military purposes, but artists the world over also want access to the product for their own works. Now, British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor has purchased exclusive rights to use Vantablack in his art.

Officially, Vantablack is not a paint, pigment, or fabric, though that’s the way it’s more easily described. It is instead a “functionalized ‘forest’ of millions upon millions of incredibly small tubes made of carbon.” How ever it’s described, it’s scary to look at, and its place in a work of art could be haunting and provocative. It makes sense that more people want access to the “forest,” and a lot of artists, like Christian Furr, are furious that the rights were given to only one person.

“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,” Furr said.

The situation is an interesting one, and in some ways, unprecedented. Christopher J. Buccafusco, a law professor specializing in art law, understands why people are upset that they can’t use Vantablack in their own projects. “People intuitively feel that it’s anticompetitive and immoral, but this sort of thing is intellectual property. When people invent stuff that’s new they get to have exclusive control over it. Often we think that’s a good thing,” Buccafusco says.

To that end, Kapoor has been working and experimenting with Vantablack since 2014, so it feels very personal to him. “I’ve been working in this area for the last 30 years or so with all kinds of materials but conventional materials, and here’s one that does something completely different,” he says. “I’ve always been drawn to rather exotic materials.”

However, ArtNet points out that while Kapoor has worked with Vantablack for a long time, he did not invent it. This contrasts with a 1960s case concerning Yves Klein and the new color he invented, Klein Blue—a case that’s different because Klein invented the color.