Marcel Duchamp

3 stoppages étalon (3 Standard Stoppages)

1913–14, replica 1964

Marcel Duchamp 1887–1968
Wood, glass and paint on canvas
Display dimensions variable (total weight: 26kg)
Purchased 1999


In 1964 Duchamp explained: 'This experiment was made in 1913 to imprison and preserve forms obtained through chance, through my chance. At the same time, the unit of length, one meter, was changed from a straight line to a curved line without actually losing its identity [as] the meter, and yet casting a pataphysical doubt on the concept of a straight edge as being the shortest route from one point to another.' (Anne d'Harnoncourt and Kynaston McShine, eds., Marcel Duchamp, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, pp.273-4.) Duchamp used each wooden template three times in mapping the diagrammatic painting Network of Stoppages, 1914 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). This painting served as a means of positioning the elements Duchamp called the Bachelors or Nine Malic Moulds in his early masterpiece The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (also known as The Large Glass), 1915-23 (Tate T02011).

In an interview of 1961, Duchamp hinted at a conceptual relationship between 3 Standard Stoppages and his famous 'readymades', manufactured objects he designated as works of art. Asked what he considered to be his most important work, he replied: 'As far as date is concerned I'd say the Three Stoppages of 1913. That was when I really tapped the mainspring of my future. In itself it was not an important work of art, but for me it opened the way - the way to escape from those traditional methods of expression long associated with art … For me the Three Stoppages was a first gesture liberating me from the past.' (Katherine Kuh, The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, New York 1962, p.81.)

3 Standard Stoppages was made at a time of widespread contemporary scepticism concerning the objectivity of scientific knowledge. Art historian Herbert Molderings has suggested that Duchamp may have been influenced by popular science books which discussed the relativity of all standards of measurement. In Science and Hypothesis (1902), for example, the philosopher of science and mathematician Henri Poincaré questioned whether or not it would be 'unreasonable to inquire whether the metric system is true or false?' (quoted in Molderings, p.246.) The concept for 3 Standard Stoppages may also be linked to Duchamp's admiration for the French humorist Alfred Jarry (1873-1907). At the end of the nineteenth century Jarry invented what he called a Pataphysics, or 'science of imaginary solutions', explicitly designed to 'examine the laws governing exceptions, and … explain the universe parallel to this one' (quoted in Ades, pp.78-9).

The original version of 3 Standard Stoppages is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Two replicas were made in 1963 (Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena). In 1964 an edition of eight replicas was made by Arturo Schwarz and the Tate's work is number two in this edition. In addition two further examples were made for the artist and for Arturo Schwarz, and a further two for museum exhibition.

Further reading:

Dawn Ades, Neil Cox and David Hopkins, Marcel Duchamp, London 1999, pp.78-9, reproduced p.78
Herbert Molderings, 'Objects of Modern Scepticism', in Thierry de Duve (ed.), The Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1991, pp.243-65, reproduced p.247
Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, revised and expanded edition, New York 1997, pp.594-6, reproduced pp.594, 595, 596

Sophie Howarth
April 2000

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Display caption

Duchamp regarded chance as a means ‘to combat logical reality’. He made this work by dropping three threads, each a metre long, from a height equal to their length. He then cut wooden rulers to record the shape in which each thread had fallen. Duchamp described these as ‘a preserved metre, preserved chance’: a way of giving material form to a random process based on a simple idea. He said that this work opened the way for him ‘to escape from those traditional methods of expression long associated with art ’.

Gallery label, February 2022

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