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Original Emojis to Be Exhibited at New York Museum

Examples from the set of 176 original emoji characters, which have been donated to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, are seen in an undated handout image.

Move over, Monet. Go away, van Gogh. It's time for smiley faces, cats and broken hearts at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

The acclaimed art institution announced Wednesday that it had acquired the original set of 176 emojis. They were a gift to the museum from the phone company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone.

They are not the adorable, yellow emoticons we know and love (and text) today, but 12-by-12-pixel images created by Japanese mobile carrier NTT DOCOMO. When they were introduced in 1999, they were an instant hit in Japan, but they took more than a decade more to gain worldwide acceptance.

In 2010, Unicode Consortium, which now controls emoji standards, translated the emoji into the Unicode standard, which means that a person in France, for example, can send an emoji to a person in the U.S. and it will look the same, no matter what brand of phone or operating system they use.

Today, the Unicode Consortium recognizes nearly 1,800 emojis.

"From the start, part of MoMA's mission has been to display and collect the art [and design] of our time,'' said Paola Antonelli, senior curator of the Department of Architecture and Design at the museum. "Our time is lived today in both the digital and the physical space.''

The museum will show the emojis in its lobby through the end of the year, using 2-D graphics and animations, and connecting the old emojis with the current generation.

"[Emojis] as a concept go back in the centuries, to ideograms, hieroglyphics and other graphic characters, enabling us to draw this beautiful arch that covers all of human history,'' Antonelli said. "There is nothing more modern than timeless concepts such as these.''