For the record (I started to say "just to be clear" but that didn't seem entirely appropriate), what Surrey NanoSystems and Anish Kapoor are doing seems reasonable. Vantablack is certainly suitable for patent protection and I don't think anyone's right to artistic expression is being compromised here. That said, there's definitely something 'ridiculous' (as Alex Cranz puts it in Gizmodo) about the whole debate.
Vantablack, created by the British company Surrey NanoSystems, is the blackest known substance on earth, absorbing 99.965 percent of all visible radiation. Originally just a remarkable feat of science, Vantablack has slowly rolled into production being deployed for use in the military and aerospace sector. But it was only in February of this year that Surrey NanoSystems made the substance available for other, more whimsical, uses.
Specifically, it was made available for use in artwork, and Anish Kapoor, the sculptor behind that big silvery bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park, secured the exclusive rights. According to Surrey NanoSystems, Kapoor maintains exclusivity because Vantablack “requires specialist application to achieve its aesthetic effect. In addition, the coating’s performance beyond the visible spectrum results in it being classified as a dual-use material that is subject to UK Export Control.”
What all that fancy jargon means is that Vantablack’s use in the aerospace and military industries severely limits how and why you can export it—all samples currently released for exhibition purposes (such as for a school or museum) are to be set in a glass case and only a minute amount is shipped.
Surrey NanoSystems also feels special training is required to use Vantablack for aesthetic (art) reasons, and rather than set up a training program so artists can learn to work with the pigment, just like other artists have learned to work with red hot metal or blinding lasers, Surry NanoSystems would rather train one studio—specifically Kapoor’s studio. How he jumped to the head of the class over other artists has not been revealed.
And specifically that exclusive and secretive relationship with Kapoor has left other artists pretty upset. The hashtag #SharetheBlack on Instagram and Twitter has been filled, for months, with annoyed artists and art fans.