Tight On Wall Space, SFMOMA Will Text Its Art To You Instead

Jul 18, 2017
Originally published on July 19, 2017 8:46 am

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has some 34,000 works in its collection — but you'll only find a fraction of those up on the wall.

"A little under 2,000 of them are on view at any one time in the galleries," says Keir Winesmith, head of SFMOMA's Web and digital platforms.

So what to do with the rest?

SFMOMA is trying a different approach to show off its holdings: Send an emoji or describe a mood via text and the museum will shoot back a picture of one of its artworks. You can see how it works in the video below:

"We've now sent 2 million text messages in five days," Winesmith says.

Most people search for love or happiness, or send an emoji of flowers, dogs or cats. There are also some more esoteric searches, Winesmith says — the ocean, or food, or music, or the names of favorite places.

Texters have started contacting the museum to learn more about the art they received on their phones — that "blows my mind," Winesmith says. He suspects this diversion may be particularly popular right now because it gives people chance to cleanse their mental palate.

"A lot of what I read from the news media is pretty negative, and sometimes a little depressing," he says. "We're able to create something that is not that, is a balance. Not quite an antidote, but certainly a balance to what's happening out there in the news media world."

So if the news on Morning Edition has got you down today, text 572-51 with the phrase "send me" and then a word or emoji. SFMOMA will send back an image — and perhaps a moment of zen.

David Blanchard and Graham Smith produced the audio of this story. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

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So here's a way to go to the museum without actually going to the museum. Send a text message to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the museum will send back an image that matches your mood.


It really happens. In fact, some of our editors gave it a shot.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Send me some teacups. It actually looks quite inviting. It's a glass teacup, and you can see a milky cup of tea through it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Send me bicycles. There we go. There's just a bike. It's in a forest with a very bare tree. And it looks like there's some laundry hanging beside it.

GREENE: So it works.

The museum's Keir Winesmith says this displays artworks that are too numerous to hang on the walls.

KEIR WINESMITH: So SFMOMA has about 34,000 works in its collection. And a little under 2,000 of them are on view at any one time in the galleries.

INSKEEP: Now people are asking for lots of artwork themed on things like love and happiness and flowers. And, of course, dogs and cats - sort of like Instagram, but with art. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.