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On view  |  Painting and Sculpture I, Gallery 5, Floor 5

Marcel Duchamp. 3 Standard Stoppages. Paris 1913-14

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Marcel Duchamp (American, born France. 1887–1968)

3 Standard Stoppages

Paris 1913-14
Wood box 11 1/8 x 50 7/8 x 9" (28.2 x 129.2 x 22.7 cm), with three threads 39 3/8" (100 cm), glued to three painted canvas strips 5 1/4 x 47 1/4" (13.3 x 120 cm), each mounted on a glass panel 7 1/4 x 49 3/8 x 1/4" (18.4 x 125.4 x 0.6 cm), three wood slats 2 1/2 x 43 x 1/8" (6.2 x 109.2 x 0.2 cm), shaped along one edge to match the curves of the threads
Credit Line:
Katherine S. Dreier Bequest
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 91

A working note of Duchamp's describes his idea for this enigmatic work: "A straight horizontal thread one meter long falls from a height of one meter onto a horizontal plane twisting as it pleases and creates a new image of the unit of length." Here, three such threads, each fixed to its own canvas with varnish, and each canvas glued to its own glass panel, are enclosed in a box, along with three lengths of wood (draftsman's straightedges) cut into the shapes drawn by the three threads.

Duchamp later said that 3 Standard Stoppages opened the way "to escape from those traditional methods of expression long associated with art," such as what Duchamp called "retinal painting," art designed for the luxuriance of the eye. This required formal intelligence and a skillful hand on the part of the artist. The Stoppages, on the other hand, depended on chance—which, paradoxically, they at the same time fixed and "standardized." (Duchamp used the phrase "canned chance.") Subordinating art both to accident and to something approximating the scientific method (which they simultaneously parodied), 3 Standard Stoppages advanced a conceptual approach, an absurdist strain, and a way of commenting on both art and the broader culture that inspired countless later artists of many different kinds.

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