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Minnesotans are texting emojis, and getting back a work of art

Above: MIA's Nicole Soukup asked for "Send Me SFMOMA" for "Minnesota"

Ever sent an emoji to a friend and received a cool work of art back? Yeah, me neither because, you know, humans aren’t sitting around with expansive art collections at their fingertips. But thankfully, there’s something technological that solves this seemingly insurmountable problem.

The project “Send Me SFMOMA,” pioneered by Keir Winesmith, head of web and digital platforms at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, allows people to text 57251 with the phrase “send me” and either a word or an emoji. Then, the museum program texts back with a piece from the museum’s collection that hopefully matches the desired message. The project uses approximately 17,000 works of art that are indexed online, out of the total 34,000 works in SFMOMA’s collection.

"The program is based on years of human tagging," said Keir Winesmith, head of web and digital programs at SFMOMA. "We're learning and being very intentional about changes, but the program is not learning on its own."

Minnesotans have been texting the program. Winesmith says that they've received almost 600 requests for "Minnesota" and 280 for "Minneapolis" (but not so many for "Twin Cities"). And SFMOMA doesn't have artwork for every state in the union. Naturally, since the program is out of California, that's the most popular state requested. None of the data received is tracked by region/location or phone number area code; the aim is to anonymize the data. 

Curators at museums in the Midwest have been curious about the program, and seem optimistic about its usefulness in exposing people to new works of art.

"It's a bit narrow and optimistic, but I think the basic purpose of any museum is to show people things they didn't know they needed to see," said Andrea Gyorody, assistant curator of modern and contemporary art at Oberlin College's Allen Memorial Art Museum. "Even though the SFMOMA content is to some degree user-generated and lacking in context, there's an element of randomness and playfulness that accomplishes exactly what museums aim to do on a good day -- and then it's up to the user to seek out more information if he, she or they are so inclined."

As of July 21, the museum had 400 emojis catalogued. Some emoji, such as the blue spiral-of-doom and the alien emoji, do not currently have artworks matched to them. 

“Maybe responsiveness will come with increased usage or more tagging of the collection,” said Nicole Soukup, assistant curator of contemporary art and coordinator of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. “[It’s] addicting all the same.”

The program denies requests for nudes, which is ironic considering the number of nudes that are found in art history. But after all, such a message could be read as an “art sext."

Minnesota art folks have been busy testing it out. We reached out to some people via social media and text, and here’s what we got back.

Amy K. Hamlin, Associate Professor, Art History at St. Catherine University, St. Paul

Joe Sinness, artist, whose show "The Flowers" opened on July 20th at MIA's MAEP space

Paige Tighe, Artist, @deepmagentadesigns

Ryan Fontaine, artist, co-founder of Hair & Nails Gallery


Nicole Soukup, assistant curator of contemporary art and coordinator of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) at MIA

Chantal Pavageaux, Artist

Alyssa Davis, Freelance Film Festival Programmer

Chris Cloud, Social Media and Community Manager, Walker Art Center

Crystal Moten, Assistant Professor, African American, 20th Century US, Women and Gender at Macalester College

Andrea Brown, Grants Administrator at the Jerome Foundation

And this is what MIA Head of Strategic Communicatons and Converged Media Michaela Baltasar-Feyen received Joan Brown's "Woman Wearing Mask," 1972, when she texted "Send me [kitty emoji]."

Of course, there were plenty of responses that the project couldn't accomodate, like these:

Kristin Van Loon of the contact improv group HIJACK is virulently anti-smartphones. Her response was, perhaps, the best because she doesn't do technology.

“I am on a flip phone and remain an emoji virgin,” she said. “But this might explain some odd (tiny, indiscernible) picture texts I've gotten from some of my arty friends.”

Twin Cities' 5 must-see art shows this weekend

It’s hot and muggy out, which means you have every reason to stay indoors – especially, if that indoors  is an art gallery! But if you decide to venture out, an outdoor arts festival awaits you. The point is that there’s plenty to see artwise in the Twin Cities this weekend, so check out our list and enjoy!

Yeah Maybe #19

Yeah Maybe (2528 E 22nd St., Minneapolis, MN 55406)

Opening Saturday, July 22, 6 – 10 p.m.

Conversation with artists/ designers on Sunday, July 23 at 3 p.m.

This is not just another regular art opening. Yeah Maybe has partnered with the nonprofit bike store Cycles for Change, helping them design their new space down the street. For this opening, Yeah Maybe offers an art and music show with an additional afternoon of construction for the bike store. To help out, volunteer at 6 p.m. to build and paint workbenches in the new store at Franklin and 26th. Sign up by clicking here. Catch artwork by Colin Boyd with accompanying music by Itch Princess/ Fight/ I(a / dj GetFreeWifi). Check out the designing work that’s been done by Katrina Matejcik, Alex Harry Chapin, Caitlin Dippo. Morgan Peterson, Robbie Seltzer, and Andy Delany.

Red Hot Art Festival 2017

Stevens Square Park (1801 Stevens Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55403)

11 a.m. – 5 pm.

The summer of art festivals is deep underway. The 16th annual Red Hot Arts Festival – no relation to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, btw – hosts more than 100 local artists, 20 bands and performances, and tons of food trucks. For two days straight, it’s art galore!


Public Functionary (1400 12th Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413)

July 20, 21, 22 / 7pm
July 27, 28, 29 / 7pm
$12 General Admission
$8 Students and Elders

This Black conceptual opera is an interpretation of Alberta Williams King, the mother of MLK Jr and the wife of MLK, Sr., who was killed in Ebenezer Baptist Church six years after her son was murdered. Six vocalists and a 12-member ensemble will bring the work to life, following the themes of Black Birth, Black Resilience and Black Joy. “Mother King” is based on poems by Venessa Fuentes, whose work is featured in “A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota” (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2016) and with a score by Dameun Strange. The event is already entirely sold out. Good luck finding tickets.

DegeneraTe art show

Opening 7-10 p.m. Fri. Continues noon-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun. and July 29-30, 3-7 p.m. July 27-28.

Red Garage Studio, 3640 Garfield Av. S., Mpls.

Travel back in time, why don’t you, to the 1937 “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich, which opened 80 years ago on July 19. Organized by Adolf Ziegler and the Nazi Party, it usurped 650 works of art from German museums that were created by Jews, criticized German people, were abstract or expressionist or portrayed nature in ways other than realism, with the goal of ridiculing the work. Of course, this is now some of the most important art ever made. Now let us return to the present day, where 50 artists have organized a show to focus on such concerns as the environment, racism, native rights, immigration, Islamophobia, police brutality and much more. And although the current political situation may not be funny, some of the work here is satirical, if not proudly degenerate.

Above: Stuart Nielsen, "untitled," 1995, 36 x 28 x 5 inches, mixed media

Summer Group Show

Bockley Gallery (2123 W 21st Street, Minneapolis, 55405)

Opening: Thursday, July 20, 7-9 pm.

More info:

We’re deep in summer, which means there’s no better time for a summer group show! Bockley Gallery presents a collection of work from gallery and invited artists Kim Benson, Andrea Carlson, Stuart Nielsen, Jim Proctor, Lauren Roche, Dietrich Sieling, Elizabeth Simonson and Barbara Kreft, whose work shown in cooperation with CIRCA Gallery.

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