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The original set of emojis designed by Shigetaka Kurita, 1998-99.

It's the end of the world as art connoisseurs know it, and I feel ["thumbs up" emoji].

The Museum of Modern Art announced Wednesday that the original 176 emoticons, created in 1999 by Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita for foreign mobile phone company NTT DoCoMo, will be on display this December. The art community reacted with both [smiley face] and [chin scratching] imagery, with the latter questioning if a pixelated graphic of a fist pump should be under the same roof as The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. 

You can't help but wonder if the same naysayers would have gawked at Pablo Picasso's proto-cubist work Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in 1907 or pop art like Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can in the 1960s. Art encompasses the expression of the time, and today—whether we like it or not—digital communication is king.

MoMA architecture and design collection specialist Paul Galloway explains that the cheeky images are culturally significant, noting that like body language, the emoji adds a human connection to the impersonal nature of electronic communication.

"Emoji tap into a long tradition of expressive visual language. Images and patterns have been incorporated within text since antiquity," Galloway writes in a post on the museum's website. "From ancient examples to, more recently, the work of creative typesetters, these early specimens functioned as a means of augmenting both the expressive content of the text and the overall aesthetic quality of the printed page — and in some cases the icons were the language."

Houmoji banner primer grey by permission yozwpy

Image: Primer Grey

Houstonians are no strangers to the emoji revolution. Early this year, design firm Primer Grey created Houston-themed emoji—appropriately dubbed Houmoji—that's a compilation of people (Rockets player James Harden, professional rollerblader Juan Carlos), places (Shipley Do-Nuts, Rice University's Skyspace) and experiences (crying driver in traffic, annoyed hand flicking a mosquito) that define the Bayou City.

The untitled emoji exhibition opens this December in New York City and, as Galloway notes, will no doubt inspire a few selfies. 

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