MoMA Acquires Some ‘Humble Masterpieces’: The 176 Original Emoji, From 1999

NTT DOCOMO's 176 original emoji, 1999.©2016 NTT DOCOMO/GIFT OF NTT DOCOMO, INC.

NTT DOCOMO’s 176 original emoji, 1999.


The Museum of Modern Art in New York announced today it has acquired the original set of emoji, developed in 1999 by NTT DOCOMO. As Paul Galloway, a collection specialist in MoMA’s architecture and design department, wrote in a Medium post, these “humble masterpieces” are just 12 by 12 pixels.

As overseen by Shigetaka Kurita in Japan, emoji were initially created for cellphone usage. Pixellated and schematic, the original emoji were fairly basic, but they gradually grew into the more colorful, more well-rounded set of icons that are used widely today. Galloway calls emoji “a new form of global digital communication.”

This isn’t the only digital character MoMA has in its collection. In 2010, Paola Antonelli, the senior curator of the museum’s architecture and design department, announced that the museum had acquired the @ symbol.

Head over to MoMA’s Medium for a full history of emoji.

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