Museums Around the World Will Now Text Artworks Directly to Your Phone as SFMOMA’s ‘Send Me’ Goes Global

The Tate in London and the Auckland Art Gallery in New Zealand are working to adapt the program to their own collections.

teamLab's "DMM.Planets Art" in Tokyo. Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images.

If the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has its way, you will soon be able to text an emoji to museums all over the globe—and get back art in return.

The museum is working with more than half a dozen institutions around the world to expand “Send Me SFMOMA,” a collection-sharing initiative that went viral when it launched this summer. Institutions including Tate in London, the High Museum in Atlanta, as well as the Auckland Art Gallery and the Christchurch Art Gallery in New Zealand are all working to adapt the program to their own collections. SFMOMA has also spoken to museums in Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

The original idea was simple: Anyone in the US could text 572-51 with a brief description of what they wanted to see and SFMOMA would text back an image of a related work of art in its collection. The request could come in the form of an emoji, a keyword, or a color. (When I sent a fried egg emoji this afternoon, I got back a photo of artist Rirkrit Tiravanija making pad see-ew.)

The project was a smash hit. The museum received two million texts in a single week. After actor Neil Patrick Harris tweeted about the project, the tsunami of incoming requests crashed SFMOMA’s servers.

A message from Send Me SFMOMA. Screenshot courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

A message from Send Me SFMOMA. Screenshot courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

As it turns out, the project was as popular among museums as it was with consumers. “We were approached by people across the world,” Keir Winesmith, the head of web and digital platforms at SFMOMA, tells artnet News. But rather than creating a global version of its own product, the museum decided to make the basic code open source so that institutions the world over could adapt it to their own holdings. “We thought that would be more generous than simply promoting our collection,” Winesmith says.

Museums that want to adopt a version of “Send Me” must have a fully digitized collection and an Application Programming Interface that allows users to request and receive information from a central database.

Then, the institution must decide what form of communication would be most convenient for its audience. In New Zealand, for example, software systems cannot easily send images over SMS, so at least one museum is adapting the program to Facebook Messenger. Chinese museums, meanwhile, are looking to conduct “Send Me” over WeChat.

A message from Send Me SFMOMA. Screenshot courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

A message from Send Me SFMOMA. Screenshot courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

SFMOMA has been conducting seminars with interested museums in recent weeks free of charge. “We’re not looking for anything in return,” Winesmith says. “We believe in egalitarian access to culture—our society depends on that.”

The process has revealed surprising cultural differences. In New Zealand, Winesmith notes, objects are often tied to a particular place, so museums are more likely than SFMOMA to tag their collections with references to specific locations.

Some things, however, are universal. “The eggplant emoji means the same thing everywhere,” Winesmith says.

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