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MoMA adds the original emojis to its permanent collection

‘There is nothing more modern than timeless concepts such as these’

New York’s Museum of Modern Art – home of Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalì – has acquired the 176 original emojis for its permanent collection. 

The minuscule 12-by-12 pixel designs were created by Shigetaka Kurita, of Japanese phone company NTT DOCOMO, in 1999. Unlike the emojis of today (there are now around 1,851), these characters keep it basic: offering just four hand gestures, five smileys, and a selection of zodiac symbols. 

The gallery was given the emojis by NTT DOCOMO on Wednesday (October 26) this week. According to Paul Galloway, MoMA’s architecture and design specialist, the designs are a “timeless” addition to the MoMA collection.

“Shigetaka Kurita, who was a member of the i-mode development team, proposed a better way to incorporate images in the limited visual space available on cell phone screens,” Galloway wrote in a Medium post. “Released in 1999, Kurita’s 176 emoji (picture characters) were instantly successful and copied by rival companies in Japan.”

“Just like the @, emojis as a concept go back in the centuries, to ideograms, hieroglyphics, and other graphic characters, enabling us to draw this beautiful arch that covers all of human history,” he added. “There is nothing more modern than timeless concepts such as these.”

MoMA will reportedly show the emojis in its lobby until the end of this year, where they will also use animation to tie in the current generation of emojis. 

“From the start (in 1929), part of MoMA’s mission has been to display and collect the art of our time,” Paola Antonelli, senior curator of the museum’s department of architecture and design, told the Guardian. “Our time is lived today in both the digital and the physical space.”