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3 Standard Stoppages

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

1914. 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.

To make 3 Standard Stoppages, Marcel Duchamp dropped three one-meter-long threads from the height of one meter onto three canvas strips. The threads were then adhered to the canvases, preserving the random curves they had assumed upon landing. Cut along the profiles of each fallen thread, the canvases served as templates for three draftsman’s straightedges—wood tools that retain the length of the meter but paradoxically “standardize” the accidental curve.

Duchamp’s deliberately useless toolkit subverts standardized units of measure, while simultaneously poking fun at the scientific method. Though he glibly referred to 3 Standard Stoppages as “a joke about the meter,” his description of its outcome reads like a mathematical theorem: “If a straight horizontal thread one meter long falls from a height of one meter onto a horizontal plane twisting as it pleases [it] creates a new image of the unit of length.”

A flat or level surface.

A closely woven, sturdy cloth of hemp, cotton, linen, or a similar fiber, frequently stretched over a frame and used as a surface for painting.

A side view, usually referring to that of a human head.

A person who draws plans or designs, often of structures to be built; a person who draws skillfully, especially an artist.