Anish Kapoor, the artist who secured the sole license to use uber-pigment Vantablack has been banned from the artist and activist Stuart Semple’s conceptual art experience qua retail pop-up “ArtShop.”
The space opened in London’s Mayfair art district the first week of August and follows Semple’s other restrictions against Kapoor, namely forbidding him from obtaining and using Semple’s line of pigments. The move is meant to be a pointed response to Kapoor’s hoarding of the nanotubular, light-eating Vantablack, once considered the blackest pigment known to humankind.
Art Rivalry as Conceptual Art?
Naturally, rivalries between artists are nothing new. Michelangelo and Da Vinci had their quarrels, only to be reunited as ninja turtles. Likewise, Picasso and Matisse are said to have pushed each other toward their best work through friendly — and sometimes unfriendly — competition. Ditto Picasso and Modigliani or, frankly, Picasso and anyone. Few such rivalries, however, have been sparked specifically by a color.
As an activist, Semple’s staunch anti-elitism prescribes that all colors should be available to everyone, whereas Kapoor’s sole licensing of Vantablack suggests only those with means can access a medium.
Surrey NanoSystems, the UK company that pioneered Vantablack, claims on its website that “Vantablack is generally not suitable for use in art” due, in part, to it being “classified as a dual-use material that is subject to UK Export Control. We have therefore chosen to license Vantablack S-VIS exclusively to Kapoor Studios UK to explore its use in works of art.”
This didn’t sit well with Semple who has since brought Black 2.0 and Black 3.0 to market and claims they best Kapoor’s black. Moreover, Semple introduced Pinkest Pink and — in something of a conceptual coup d’état — expressly forbid the multi-millionaire, Turner prize-winning Kapoor to use it. That didn’t stop him:
The spat between Kapoor and Semple is in keeping with the namesake of Kapoor’s most illustrious prize.
In the 1820s, J.M.W. Turner shared a rivalry with fellow painter John Constable. The latter spent 15 years working on his painting The Opening of Waterloo Bridge, which was to be unveiled at an exhibition at England’s Royal Academy. When Turner learned that Constable’s work was to be displayed next to his own, less colorful seafaring painting Helvoetsluys (which was only a few months old at that point), he daubed a red buoy into his canvas. The addition of the tempest-tossed finger of crimson proved a profound differentiator for Turner and led to him decisively overshadowing his rival at the exhibition.
In Semple’s case, it seems the project is not to overshadow his rival artist so much as avoid him completely (whilst perhaps simultaneously leveraging the row into pieces like the one you’re reading ). Before entering ArtShop, visitors are greeted by a security guard and required sign a form declaring that they are not Kapoor. No word if Kapoor cares.