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GIFs are now an official, snob-sanctioned art form, and these six are the best

The past three years have seen the humble GIF morph from a retro file format into a cultural currency, a universal communication system — and increasingly, a veritable, snob-sanctioned form of art.

That’s especially clear Thursday, on the culmination of a 10-week search for the world’s best art GIF. The inaugural Motion Photography Prize was judged by a panel of impressively credentialed judges — think filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and artist Cindy Sherman — and sponsored by Google+ and the contemporary gallery Saatchi. More than 4,000 people from 52 countries entered. But in the end, there could be only one Motion Photography Prize … and that went to Christina Rinaldi, a “conceptual nail artist” from Brooklyn, whose winning entry is embedded above.

These were the runners-up:

The finalists, along with a shortlist of 54 other GIFs, will be exhibited at Saatchi’s London gallery from now until May 24 — in celebration, Saatchi says, of “this new creative art form.”

But GIFs, as any Internet-user knows, are in fact nothing new. The moving pictures, which ruled the ‘90s Web, celebrated their 26th birthday last year. It is true that the file format has seen a kind of renaissance in recent years, however, as the art world latches on to its (apparently endless) potential. Tumblr and the auction house Paddle8 sponsored a GIF exhibit at 2012’s Art Basel Miami Beach. The clearinghouse Giphy is awash in work from young “digital artists,” who have lately made GIFs their medium.

So how long before we see GIFs in the Smithsonian or the Met?