The museum has acquired the original set of 176 emojis from 1999, created by Japanese developer Shigetaka Kurita. They were a gift from the phone company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone.
“From the start (in 1929!), part of MoMA’s mission has been to display and collect the art (and design) of our time,” said Paola Antonelli, senior curator of the Department of Architecture and Design at the museum. “Our time is lived today in both the digital and the physical space.”
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The museum’s other digital acquisitions have included the “@” symbol and video games. While it might seem strange to think that a museum has obtained something that’s on the keyboard of your phone, Antonelli says that design works differently to art, which in many cases is unique. Some design elements, such as the “@” symbol, are in the public domain, which means anyone can use them and the museum can simply display them. The museum will show the emojis in its lobby through the end of the year, using 2D graphics and animations, and connecting the old emojis with the current generation.
“(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,” Antonelli said. “There is nothing more modern than timeless concepts such as these.”