Anish Kapoor on Vantablack ownership, artificial intelligence and 'making love with the screen'

Until 4 February 2024, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi presents Anish Kapoor. Untrue Unreal.
Until 4 February 2024, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi presents Anish Kapoor. Untrue Unreal. Copyright Credit: Palazzo Strozzi
By Theo Farrant
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We sat down with British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor for the opening of his new major exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence.


Anish Kapoor, the Turner Prize-winning artist and the creative genius behind some of the world's most iconic sculptures, including Chicago's Cloud Gate sculpture and London's ArcelorMittal Orbit, has left his creative footprint across the globe.  

But behind the perfectly-polished gleam of his disorientating mirror sculptures and the controversy of his Vantablack works lies a relentless mission to shatter our understanding of reality. 

Recently, Euronews Culture saw down with Kapoor ahead of the opening of his new exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi to unravel some of the mystery that surrounds both the artist and his work.

He candidly discussed his controversial ownership of "the blackest material in the universe", his thoughts on artificial intelligence and how he goes about conceptualising a new installation. 

Kapoor poses for a photograph in his London studio.
Kapoor poses for a photograph in his London studio.Credit: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP

Euronews Culture: Your art often challenges viewers to seek truth beyond appearance. Can you share your thoughts on the role of art in helping us navigate the complexities of our modern world?

Anish Kapoor: Of course, the modern world is extremely confusing for all of us, especially today. And it's in a difficult place, it seems to me, politically and otherwise. Art, cannot be linear. Great poetry doesn't just fall into meaning. This is Paul Valéry, a great French poet - poetry that falls into meaning ceases to be poetry or becomes bad poetry.

Art has to live, if you like, in this intermediary, liminal half-space between meaning and no meaning, just as we do. And it's only then that it can truly have a long, deep life. 

We live in a world where there are thousands of objects. Every single one of them is made. Every single one. Only in art and out there in the cosmos, are there a few things, few things to which we say, “What’s that? Is that art? Why is it art? I don’t trust it! No it’s not art.” We live in this sort of strange relation to nameability, understandability. I think that gives great wealth to life.

Can you share some insights into your creative process when conceptualising and bringing to life a new installation of sculpture? How do you decide on the scale, materials and form?

I truly, firmly believe that I have nothing to say as an artist or as a human being. I talk too much. But of course, I have a practice - a practice meaning I go to the studio every single day and I engage in the activity of whatever’s going on, whatever I feel that’s right to be going on with. 

This leads to little moments, now and then, of “Oh really could it be like that? Oh I didn’t know that could happen,” or whatever. And I try to follow those moments. I suppose that's my real job is to follow what comes out of perhaps even idiotic play.

Of course, when it comes to making an exhibition, it's a different thing. Mostly it'll be of works that have been sitting in the studio for a while. I don't like to show things that were made yesterday. I like to show things after I've watched it for six months and tested whether they’re any good or not and whether they stand up to being looked at and whether they hold that fundamental mystery of the question. Is it knowable or is it still unknowable? And it's the unknowable, of course, that I'm interested in.

But of course, then also making an exhibition is about the relationship to the space and what it does to your body as you walk through it. What's the scale of the object and so on and so forth? So that becomes part of it. It’s a much more practical process of both complication and revelation, if you like.

Void Pavilion VII by Anish Kapoor (2023)
Void Pavilion VII by Anish Kapoor (2023)Credit: Palazzo Strozzi / ElaBialkowska / OKNOstudio

Some of the artworks in this exhibition incorporate the use of Vantablack, which has been described as a fusion of art and science, but has also raised questions about artistic ownership and property rights in the art world. Can you share your perspective on these issues and how you think the art world can strike a balance between protecting innovation and promoting inclusivity?

It’s complicated. This black material, the blackest material in the universe, isn't a paint. So it's not just a thing you paint on. It's a highly technical, complicated physical process, difficult physical process. 

I've been working with it for nearly ten years now and in ten years I’ve only made a few a few objects. It’s almost been necessary because of that complicated process to, for the company who does it, for me, for both of us, to engage in it in a very particular process. So if there's some idiot person who's out there trying to making a fuss about it, well, it isn't as he says it is. Whatever, I couldn’t care less.

In a way all sorts of processes are if you like, right across the world, in all sorts of things, given to very specific use and therefore have a particular authorship, ownership or whatever you want to call it. I mean, honestly, it's a non-issue as far as I'm concerned.

So let me tell you about this black. The black, of course, is as I say, the blackest material in the universe. Blacker than a black hole. If you put this black material on an object, the object disappears. So if what we're talking about is that all objects are three-dimensional, my contention is that in this way, they go beyond three-dimensions and in some sense become four-dimensional. They go into some other space. Fiction and reality - that's part, if you like, of the poetic story.


In your opinion, does artificial intelligence enhance or stifle creativity in art?

Complicated. Let's say that since modernism, since 100 years, 150 years, the creative acts, culturally, artistically, has been attributed to the individual. It's the individual's reflection on their own inner-being and the world out there that is the key question.

A.I. it seems to me is a dangerously close to another capitalist tool for the eclipsing of the individual. And you can hear from what I'm saying that I'm not entirely with this. Some people argue that it makes it more democratic. I do not see how. 

Take Picasso's inventions, which come from his deep self and then just take them and put them somewhere else, as if they belong in this technology. Well they don't. 

So there is a very confusing thing that we haven't worked out yet, about authorship. So it's complicated. Is there a way for A.I. to invent something new? I mean, we all do this all the time - take a little bit from there, a little bit from there and put it together and say it's me! Since we're talking about Picasso, he said steal but do it better than anybody else.


A.I. if it's sophisticated enough, might be able to do that, but I don't see any sign of it yet. 

Svayambhu by Anish Kapoor (2007)
Svayambhu by Anish Kapoor (2007)Credit - Palazzo Strozzi / ElaBialkowska / OKNOstudio

How do you think artists can continue to leverage physicality to create meaningful connections with audiences in an increasingly virtual world? How do you see this idea of physicality in art evolving?

I'm probably terribly old fashioned and the wrong person to ask. But anyway, I mean, it's interesting, isn't it, that the virtual world can feel as if it's physical. The screen gives this sense that somehow one is engaged. But the truth is that you're not engaged because it's only occupying this part of your body (Kapoor points to his head). 

A great work of sculpture, while you may see it with your eyes, I think you feel it in your stomach, and it's somewhere else in you. There's a work in this show which I call Tongue Memory, meaning there's stuff all over your body that actually has physical effect. It's like making love with the screen - you can't. It isn't the same as touching someone or being touched. It's a whole other thing. So there's at least a way to go yet. 

Talk me through your new exhibition at the historic Palazzo Strozzi in Florence - what ideas are you hoping to convey?


Well it's called ‘Untrue Unreal’. And of course, it's all about contingent realities. Much of this show has so-called void objects, empty objects in it. But in fact, none of them are empty. They're all either full of darkness or full of mirror.

Check out the video above for extracts of the interview and the exhibition.

Video editor • Theo Farrant

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