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Please keep Anish Kapoor away from the whitest white paint

Please keep Anish Kapoor away from the whitest white paint


What would he even do with it — paint a big white hole?

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A man with sunglasses on holding up a panel with a very bright white square painted on it.
Xiulin Ruan, one of the researchers who made the whitest white paint, holding up a sample.
Photo by Jared Pike / Purdue University

Researchers at Purdue University say they have created the whitest paint on record. In fact, they’ve now crafted an ultra-white paint twice: in October, they announced a white paint that was capable of reflecting 95.5 percent of sunlight. But they decided to outdo themselves with a new formulation, announced today, that reflects up to 98.1 percent of sunlight.

The thing about a very white paint is that, along with reflecting light, it also rejects heat. As any goth who has spent the day on the beach knows, black absorbs light and will heat up. The hope with an ultra-white paint is that it could be used on buildings to keep them cooler without air conditioning.

The science of the paint comes down to a high concentration of barium sulfate, a compound that’s already used in paints and photographic paper. The barium sulfate particles are different sizes, allowing the paint to scatter a broader range of light than if they were all the same size.

I have concerns

This all sounds very cool, but I have concerns. And that’s because one of the most well-known dramas in the art world has to do with the blackest black: Vantablack.

Vantablack is a material made with nanotubes that is able to absorb up to 99.99 percent of visible light. The most accessible form of it, a sprayable paint called Vantablack S-VIS, is exclusively licensed to the studio of Anish Kapoor so that he can monopolize the ability to make such groundbreaking artworks as... a big black hole in the floor.

Kapoor’s hogging of Vantablack incensed other artists so much that another artist, Stuart Semple, created “the world’s pinkest pink” pigment. (It’s unclear if it actually is the pinkest pink, but I guess scientists are still busy with black and white.)

The pink is available for anyone to buy, except for Anish Kapoor:

By adding this product to your cart you confirm that you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated to Anish Kapoor, you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor. To the best of your knowledge, information and belief this paint will not make its way into the hands of Anish Kapoor. 

The beef did not stop there, however, because Kapoor got his hands on the pinkest pink and posted to Instagram an extremely classy photo of his middle finger coated in it, with the caption, “Up yours.” Great guy, love the attitude. Semple then went on to create his own ultra-black pigments and paints, which are available to everyone except, you guessed it, Kapoor.

So please, researchers who are bringing us ultra-white paint, do not let Anish Kapoor get anywhere near it. Ideally, anything that could be used to improve people’s lives while reducing the energy they use should be free and widely available. And my fragile psyche just can’t handle more paint-based art battles.