Collection 1880s–1940s


According to the Laws of Chance



  • MoMA, Floor 5, 508 The David Geffen Wing

In 1913, Marcel Duchamp dropped three one-meter-long pieces of thread onto three canvases, letting them fall as they may. The result was 3 Standard Stoppages, described by Duchamp as an “experiment . . . made . . . to imprison and preserve forms obtained through chance.” That same year, he composed Erratum Musical (heard playing in this gallery) by drawing music notes from a hat.

Duchamp and many of the other artists with works on view were associated with Dada, a movement that embraced chance operations, irreverent humor, and the absurd to critique not only the social, political, and cultural structures they held responsible for World War I, but also rational thought itself. By opening art up to accident, randomness, and contingency, Duchamp and his peers also challenged centuries of thinking about artistic agency. Inspired by their example, the works and text panel in this gallery are installed in a sequence from 0 to 21 that was randomly generated by drawing images of each from a bag.

Organized by Anne Umland, Senior Curator, with Lydia Mullin, Curatorial Assistant, and Charlotte Barat, former Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture.

27 works online


Installation images

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

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