Artwork: Screenshot of a text from the SFMOMA Send Me tool.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is home to nearly 35,000 works—but only 5% of their vast holdings can be put on view due to spatial constraints. To see the museum’s full collection you’d need to walk the equivalent of 121.3 miles—a feat too extraordinary for even the most dedicated art lover and too costly to construct for any institution.
In an effort to share their riches with public, they have created Send Me SFMOMA, a text messaging service that allows you to submit requests using words of emojis. To access the service, just text 572-51, type “send me,” and then follow it up with whatever you might like. You can request all sorts of goodies from diamonds to chocolates, Abstract to Pop Art, Richard Misrach to Frida Kahlo—or you can simply drop in a rainbow, flames, or a wave emoji, and see what happens next.
The results may surprise you, as they run the gamut from literal to figurative, offering for a wide array of interpretations—just as the best art should. They can be informative, as a request for sculpture resulted in Robert Rauschenberg’s Sketch for Monogram, 1959 or metaphorical as an inquiry for diamonds resulted in Alfred Jensen’s Expulsion from Eden.
SFMOMA’s creative technologist Jay Mollica explains in a blog post, “Studies have shown that the average museum visitor spends approximately seven seconds in front of any artwork.” Indeed, the act of going to a museum can sometimes be daunting as the compulsion to “see everything” in order to “get your money’s worth” finds people touring the halls as though they were browsing at a department store.
Although some works are naturally arresting, the fact is we can’t always fully perceive the work at first glance, and in a swipe this, scroll that culture, we’re becoming increasingly conditioned to disregard anything that doesn’t make us outright gasp.
“In a world oversaturated with information, we asked ourselves: how can we generate personal connections between a diverse cross section of people and the artworks in our collection?” Mollica asks. The Send Me tool is one answer, and a popular one at that.
During its beta run, Send Me SFMOMA received 12,000 text requests in just four days, generating more than 3,000 responses (not all requests will work). Recognizing the desire for instant gratification, as well as playing with the element of surprise, Send Me SFOMA is a fun little addiction that piques your curiosity while honing the ability to communicate your heart’s desire.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.