“Send Me SFMOMA:” Art and Accessibility in the 21st Century

SFMOMA_cakesRecently, I came across one of the most creative digital tools I’ve ever seen in the art world. “Send Me SFMOMA,” a text messaging service created by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, allows you to access the museum’s collection with ease and convenience. Simply send a text message to the number 572-51 with the keyword “send me (whatever subject you’d like to see),” and the database will respond with a corresponding work of art, complete with its image, title, artist, and year it was produced. You can type in any range of themes and subjects – my searches have ranged from “cake” to “Boston” to “sunglasses,” all yielding a large variety of results (see images in the margins). If you want to see something from a specific (modern) artist or art movement, you can search for that as well and receive a related image. You can even send an emoji to represent what you’d like to see, though at the moment only the more commonly used ones work; I imagine that later versions of the SFMOMA_IndustrialBostonservice will accept a wider range of emojis. The option to send an emoji definitely capitalizes on our generation’s interest in communicating quickly and efficiently, and in using a single picture to convey a variety of feelings and thoughts.

While using the texting service, I’ve loved the versatility of search results, from the unfinished quality of Tuymans’ ‘Pink Glasses,’ to the miniature and delicate nature of Thiebaud’s ‘Display Cakes,’ to the to industrial feel imparted by ‘Untitled [State Street Station].’ The pop art-related searches I conducted also have a specific character, which is a repetitive quality that’s so indicative of that style. You never quite know exactly what you’re going to receive; results can help you recall something you’ve already learned or teach you something new. I consider myself well-versed in art movements and different works of art, and always find myself learning something new SFMOMA_Sunglassesfrom the service. For example, for the first time, I discovered graphic designer Stephen Frykholm’s Summer Picnic Posters, a famous print series featuring enlarged food, almost to the point of abstraction, and which promoted a series of summer events hosted by the reputed manufacturing company Herman Miller, Inc. I find these prints so cool and they’re currently rotating out as my phone wallpaper.

“Send Me SFMOMA” comes at an apt time. The on-the-go, inundated nature of life today makes planning in-person museum trips more challenging. If you’re not a student or otherwise eligible for free or reduced-price admission, it can be difficult to afford museum visits. Furthermore, if you do regularly visit museums, chances are you’ll never see the entire collection in person, because such collections are usually much too large to display all at once. SFMOMA contains 34,678 works of art, and it exhibits a mere 5% of them due to space constraints. In comparison, SFMOMA_WarholParis’ The Louvre, which is the largest art museum in the world, and 14 times larger than SFMOMA, displays only 8% of its 38,000-piece collection at once.

Therefore, “Send Me SFMOMA” is an extremely creative solution to the limitations of space and time, as described by Jay Mollica, the museum’s creative technologist. “Send Me SFMOMA” makes such an immense collection bite-sized and accessible while preserving the versatility and spontaneity you might experience when navigating through different exhibits in a physical museum. Its randomized nature makes it fun and exciting to peruse while not being too overwhelming. Also, no location constraints prevent you from accessing the collection. You could be almost anywhere in the world, and be able to access and SFMOMA_PopArtappreciate works of art that may have been out of the public eye for years. Furthermore, with “Send Me SFMOMA,” you don’t incur fees other than text messaging rates, which makes experiencing the art more affordable and convenient. In recent years, the old institution of museums has been moving into the modern era, with some museums developing phone apps to enhance visitors’ experiences, and others providing relevant hashtags for their exhibits and encouraging visitors to utilize them as well. However, SFMOMA’s recent innovation is the first I’ve seen of its kind, and I wonder if more museums will catch onto this new trend.

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