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Duchamp, 3 Standard Stoppages

Learn how Marcel Duchamp reconceived a standard unit of measure. To learn about other great moments in modern art, take our online course, Modern Art, 1880-1945. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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Video transcript

(drums) Ann: Marcel Duchamp had been trained as a painter. He was a very capable painter in the impressionists style. A very terrific painter in the cubists style. At the end of 1912, Duchamp decided, "Painting is dead. I'm going to turn to different things." 1913 was the year that Duchamp made his first ready made by putting an ordinary store bought bicycle wheel atop an ordinary store bought kitchen stool. What Duchamp said is, "It is my power of choice." "It is my deed of making a selection that makes a work, a work of art." And one of the things that he did in 1913 was re-imagine how long a meter could be. He did so with the work of art behind me called, 'The Standard Stoppages'. He called The Standard Stoppages a ready made because it was a ready made idea that a meter is a given thing. So, he was making a new meter. It was just a Duchampian meter and here's how he made it. He decided to cut three threads, a meter in length, and then to stand with the three threads a meter above three canvases. He then proceeded to drop each thread to the canvas below and he fixed each of the threads on the canvas. Cut down the canvas into a rectangle and pronounced these the new standard. It was a work that was beautiful in it's concept. If you're going to make a new meter stick you should use it, right? It shouldn't just be an abstract tool that you have sitting around. The way Duchamp decided to put The Standard Stoppage he made to use was on an old painting that he had made several years ago and abandoned. Tracing with his templates that he had made from the way the threads fell on the canvases, these very beautiful curvy shapes to grow, kind of like, this weird coral, calling the picture, 'Network of Stoppages'. Duchamp remains, 100 years later, one of the most daring challengers of ideas that a century on, we still hold pretty dear about what a work of art could be. (bells ringing)