Text San Francisco’s Modern Art Museum and It Will Respond With Art

You don’t quite always know what you’ll receive.
July 10, 2017, 2:24pm
Image: Shutterstock

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has a delightful texting service that lets you get a glimpse of its massive collection. Send a word or emoji to 572-51, and the museum's API will reply with a corresponding artwork. You can also ask for a piece with a specific hue, by saying a phrase like "send me something yellow."

Sometimes the results are literal: When I sent a horse emoji, I got a black and white photograph of an equestrian atop a steed. But when I asked for a wave, I got a Charles Howard painting from 1942 that I guess is a little wavy, but wasn't the ocean I was expecting.


A screenshot of the texting service.

You can also send proper nouns like names, but it doesn't always work. When I tried "Jason" I got a magazine cover that featured American musician Jason Molina. When I tried my own name, however, the service had no results.

If you try the same query twice, you won't necessarily get the same result. When I tried sending a horse emoji again, that time I received a photograph of a horse statue from 1929. That indicates the results are randomized, making the service even more dynamic.

Only about 5 percent of the SFMOMA's nearly 35,000 works are viewable at any given time. If you were to walk past every artwork in its possession, you would need to stroll for almost seven miles. The texting service was devised as a way to increase accessibility to the museum's extensive collection.

The tool was released earlier this year, but was recently updated to a five-digit number. Previously, it ran on a 10-digit number and major mobile carriers sometimes mistook it for a spambot.