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Can You Own a Color?

One artist has exclusive rights to the world’s blackest substance

Vantablack: Courtesy of Surrey NanoSystems

The deep black of Vantablack makes wrinkles in aluminum foil disappear.

What’s the blackest black on the planet? It’s not the color of coal, a midnight sky, or even a panther’s fur. The blackest shade on Earth actually comes from a human-made substance called Vantablack. It’s believed to be the darkest material ever created. But that’s not all that has people talking. Recently, sculptor Anish Kapoor (ah-NEESH kah-POR) bought the exclusive rights to use Vantablack in art. Now, many are asking whether an artist should have a monopoly on a material or color.

A British company called Surrey NanoSystems originally developed Vantablack as a coating for military and scientific instruments. It absorbs nearly all the light that strikes its surface, making objects coated with the substance almost impossible to see. Some people say it’s like looking into a hole. When asked about the artistic applications of the material, Kapoor told the BBC, “Imagine a space that’s so dark that as you walk in you lose all sense of where you are, what you are, and especially all sense of time.”

Kapoor makes sculptures that manipulate form and explore space. Some people believe that he’s the perfect person to experiment with Vantablack. But many in the art community object. They argue that if Kapoor has sole access to Vantablack, he is preventing other artists from innovating with the new substance. 

This isn’t the first time an artist has claimed a color for himself. In 1960, French conceptual artist Yves Klein created and patented his own vivid shade of blue. Kapoor didn’t invent Vantablack, though, and it’s not a paint color but a unique substance. Representatives of Surrey NanoSystems say that as scientists, they’re staying out of the discussion, stating: “This debate is for the artistic community, we don’t want to get involved.” 

What do you think? Should only one person have the right to use a color or material in his or her artwork?

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