Art Crimes, the first website dedicated to archiving photographs of graffiti, is about to turn 20 years old. To mark the occasion, The Toast interviewed Susan Farrell, the creator of the site:
One of the things that makes artwork precious is that there’s only one of it. We don’t think a lot about this concept now, but at the cusp of the digital era it was a very big deal. When I worked with museums in the ’90s, one of their main concerns was: “If we make a copy of this work available digitally what will that mean about the value of the original?”
The graffiti artists had a different set of problems than fine artists. They had personal-safety issues, they had a terrible public-relations problem and they had an audience-feedback problem. They had an art-preservation problem, and they had the problem that art historians would not take them seriously because their artwork was too ephemeral.
I thought, I can solve that problem. I can create the repository of work and then no one can ignore it anymore. I can attack the public-relations problem because I can help interpret the work, I can showcase the work as important, I can help show the value of it aesthetically, and I can stand in the middle between the public and the artist and create communication both ways.
So, photographs are multipliable, unlike canvases and sculptures. Some photographers will make only one print in order to retain its preciousness, but graffiti writers never did. They took photographs and immediately printed copies to trade like baseball cards. That’s why graffiti art was able to colonize the Internet before other kinds of art, because graffiti writers had a very open attitude toward creating digital copies.