When Artists Act Like Brands.
Apr 11 2016
Can I get away with this?
Tiffany blue, Hermes orange and now Kapoor black? I've been mulling over news reports from a few weeks ago that British artist Anish Kapoor has secured the exclusive right to use the high-tech color "Vantablack".
"Vantablack" was developed by UK firm Surrey NanoSystems for military purposes. The pigment is so dark that it absorbs 99.96 percent of light making anything coated with it nearly invisible. Those of you who are fans of the U.S. television series The Americans will know it's strategic value and the lengths the former Soviet Union were willing to go to during the Cold War to discover it's properties.
While it's argued that Kapoor is not the first artist to secure rights to a particular color (French abstract artist Yves Klein co-developed his signature matte cobalt blue color for which he secured a patent under French law), that is not entirely accurate. Kapoor now reportedly has an exclusive right to use the color to the exclusion of all other artists while in the case of "International Klein Blue" as it's called, fellow artists (and non artists alike) can use the color but need to pay a licensing fee to the artist's estate.
Moral issues relating to the monopolization of a color by an artist aside, Kapoor's move struck me as one that might be made by a brand trying to lock down and protect it's identity. Like logos and brand names, colors are an important part of brand identity and so brands go to great lengths to protect their exclusivity. It brings to mind the legal tussle between Christian Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent over the use of red soles. If you recall, a U.S. court upheld the validity of Louboutin’s red-sole trademark but with caveats.
In this instance however, we're not talking about brand identity or sales of shoes but artistic expression. It makes me wonder whether Kapoor will likewise aggressively pursue his rights should a fellow artist attempt to use "Vantablack" or something close to it in their work. What if a fellow artist wishes to use it merely as a commentary on Kapoor's brazen appropriation of a color? What then? Wouldn't that usage constitute a form of freedom of expression worthy of legal protection?
If nothing else, the issue is a fascinating one. I doubt we've heard the last of it.
The Luxe Chronicles