Vol.1 / Issue 3


Why the Hatrack is and/or is not Readymade:
with Interactive Software, Animation,
and Videos for Readers to Explore

by Rhonda Roland Shearer with Gregory Alvarez, Robert Slawinski, Vittorio Marchi and text box by Stephen Jay Gould

* Please note this essay contains 8 videos,
10 animations and 3 interactive presentations.



Click all images to enlarge
Illustration 22A.
Marcel Duchamp, Trébuchet, 1917
Illustration 22B.
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, photograph by Alfred stieglitz from Blindman No. 2, 1917
© 2000 Succession Marcel Duchamp, ARS, N.Y./ADAGP, Paris
Click to enlarge
Illustration 22C.
Even a cookbook refers to Duchamp's readymades as only humble, store-bought objects.
David Rosengarten with Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca, THE DEAN & DELUCA COOKBOOK, New York: Random House, 1996, P. 206

One, might think at this point, "So what. I can already see that Duchamp probably altered, physically or photographically, his readymade objects -- what difference does this make?" Let's set aside the fact that all books of art history or cultural criticism (and even cookbooks! See illustration 22C) state, as their premise, that Duchamp's readymades are unaltered, store bought mass-produced objects - and that this claim can now be dismissed as factually incorrect.(15) I will use illustrations 22A and 22B to show that Duchamp's original coatrack and urinal help explain why I believe Duchamp altered readymade objects in his photographs in the first place. Since the quality and approach that Duchamp used for his numerous distorted "readymade" representations are similar, such a frequency of occurrence suggests that Duchamp was applying a single geometric system. Perhaps this system that I have been observing throughout Duchamp's readymade works is the new and mathematically rigerous "rehabilitated perspective" geometry Duchamp spoke about in interviews. Moreover, I also found evidence that Duchamp used this new geometry in the Large Glass, just as he had claimed.


In a 1966 interview with Pierre Cabanne, Duchamp states:(16)
  Perspective was very important. The "Large Glass" constitutes a rehabilitation of perspective, which had then been completely ignored and disparaged. For me, perspective became absolutely scientific.
Cabanne: It was no longer realistic perspective.
Duchamp: No. It's a mathematical, scientific perspective.
Cabanne: Was it based on calculations?
Duchamp: Yes, and on dimensions. These were the important elements. What I put inside was what, will you tell me? I was mixing story, anecdote (in the good sense of the word)(17) with visual representation, while giving less importance to visuality, to the visual element, than one generally gives in painting. Already I didn't want to be preoccupied with visual language. . . .
Cabanne: Retinal.
Duchamp: Consequently, retinal. Everything was becoming conceptual, that is, it depended on things other than the retina.


click each image to enlarge
Time Line of Readymade Series of "Trébuchet" Coatracks --
as Seen by Spectators


(made 1916-17
found in 1960s)
(made in 1940
found in 1983)
(made 1964
seen 1991)
Retouched 2D print in Boite-en-valise
2D photo original Coatrack
3D iron and wood model
2D print found by Ecke Bonk
(made in 1940 by Duchamp for Boite)

2D Blueprint

© 2000 Succession Marcel Duchamp, ARS, N.Y./ADAGP, Paris

Let's look at the Coatrack (see illustration 23A, B, C, D, and E) as a series of snapshots in time, just as we did to examine Duchamp's hatracks, as he instructed us to do in his notes (refer again to illustration #1).

Note that the geometries of the coatrack series (as we also found in the hatrack series), is different in every 2D and 3D representation. (For example, the iron hooks are straight in the 1964 Schwarz 3D model and 2D blueprint, whereas they lean backwards in the original 1916-17 studio photograph and in the 1941 Boîte print. And as in our treatment of the hatrack series, we must mentally visualize or, alternatively, make literal 3D models of the coatrack 2D representations, in order to observe the differences among all of the 5 coatrack representations (four 2D and one 3D).

The particular distortions contained within the original studio photograph provide the greatest interest for our immeditate discussion. Again, as we found in the hatrack, the coatrack hooks bend and turn in unanticipated ways. (We expect mass-produced objects to have characteristics of the factory-made, traits that include standardization and regularity of form -- the very opposite of custom-made variations). Look at the last hook of the 4 (moving from left most hook to right), the top small sub-hook (the middle of the three sub-hooks) bends so far up and in that it reaches the top largest sub-hook. Duchamp told us that he nailed the coatrack to the floor after having "kicked it around" his studio. However, this trauma to the coatrack (that he aptly titled "trap" or Trébuchet -- a term from a move in chess where a player sacrifices one of his own pieces to trap an opponent's piece) the physical properties of cast iron determine that such a hook would crack and break before bending. This rigidity of material proves useful for withstanding the stress of hanging heavy coats. Duchamp, on the 1964 blueprint, even specifies that his 3D 1964 Schwarz hooks must be made of iron -- not soft copper.

Testing and Comparison of Perspective Geometry: A Technique Applied from CIA Expert Dino A. Brugioni in Photo Fakery
Click each image to enlarge

Duchamp's distorted Coatrack in original studio photo, 1916-17


Actual historical coatrack in ASRL Collection with correct perspective

Illustration 23 F and G
Analysis done by Yong Duk Jhun and Rhonda Roland Shearer

Click each image to enlarge
Illustration 23H
Illustration 23I
Method of identifying perspective distortion in a photograph -- thus demonstrating evidence of photo manipulation -- from Brugioni's
Photo Fakery
Cover of Photo Fakery: The History and Techniques of Photographic Deception and Manipulation, by Dino A. Brugioni, Virginia: Brassey's, 1999, p. 90

Click to enlarge
Illustration 24A.
Historical coathook in the ASRL Collection that matches the one Duchamp used in original 1916-17 studio photo
Illustration 24B.
Historical coatrack in the ASRL Collection

Note the shapes and count the holes in hook 24A and 24B and contrast these to the general form and number of holes found in Duchamp's original Coatrack hooks in the studio photo and in the Schwarz model in 24C

Click to enlarge
Illustration 24C.
Comparison of Schwarz 3D model's wood base (bottom) and wood base as depicted in 1916-1917 original studio photograph (top)
Note: circles are for clarity added by author

In fact, when Robert Slawinski and I began working on creating a coatrack 3D computer model (equivalent to the information contained in the 1915-16 2D studio photograph) we quickly recognized that the hooks used by Duchamp were; a) a common type readily found in the historical record (see illustrations 24 A and B); b.) that his 3D Schwarz model of the coatrack looked nothing like the "original coatrack" found in the studio photograph of 1915-16 (for example, note that the hooks are straighter in the 3D model and that the wood board bottom extends too far past the hooks on each end in comparison to what we find in the original 1915-16 2D studio photograph, see illustration 24; c) not only is the last hook (moving from right to left) distorted in the original studio photo above (in 24C) (its top small sub-hook with an impossible upward curve), but the other 3 main hooks of the four, and the wood board itself, are also distorted. In other words, we cannot take the matching historical hooks (as in illustration 24B), place them evenly on a symmetrically rectangular wood board and then find one single perspective viewpoint to make a projection that matches all the shapes of the coatrack, as Duchamp has depicted them in the original studio photograph (see illustration 23A).

Click each image to enlarge
Illustration 25A.
A set of continuous and related
3D cube distortions as seen
from four fixed eye positions
Illustration 25B.
3D cube is only seen as a
3D eye moves around it
Illustration 26A.
Duchamp's disgram 26A illustrates what is seen from a single fixed eye as in 25A above
Illustration 26B.
Duchamp's disgram 26B illustrates more accurately how an eye moves in time and space to collect information as also shown in 25B above

See illustration 25 showing how the cube's shape changes according to the position of the viewer's eye position. When we know the original shape -- such as a cube or a series of identical coat hooks in a row -- we can then accurately predict what the shape of the cube or coat hooks will be from various observer's eye positions. In other words, if the resulting cube or coatrack shapes follow our predictions (based upon both our prior experience and perspective rules), then we say that the representation is "correct" (in perspective geometry); if the cube and coathook shapes are not in accordance with our predictions, then we say that the representation is distorted.
Click to enlarge
Illustration 23E.
2D working print
found by Ecke Bonk
that Duchamp made
in 1940 in the process of creating a pochoir print for his 1941 Boite-en-valise
As in our previous hatrack series, our two hypotheses are possible: first, that Duchamp altered the coatrack physically; or second, that he altered it photographically. The last image in the coatrack series of snapshots reveals, I believe, the photo composite technique that Duchamp used to make his coatrack and other "readymades" as well as disclosing the underpinnings and general methodology of his new form of perspective geometry. (see illustration 23E)

Illustration 25A depicts the perspective found in photography -- one fixed eye sees a continuous and related set of distortions from the perspective of this one eye. (The four different cube descriptions in 25A are what the eye sees from 4 different fixed positions). Illustration 25B, however, more accurately depicts how we actually see objects, as our two eyes, head and bodies must continually move around 3D objects to fully see their forms, as shown with this cube. And yet, despite what must be the truly fragmented nature of the visual input, the mind and eyes work seamlessly together to create the appearance of discrete and fixed objects.

The two cube examples (25A and B) directly relate to the earlier discussion of Duchamp's White Box note, which, as I argued, describes 2 mental operations (see illustration 26A and B). The single fixed eye perspective of 26A is like the fixed eye looking at the cube in 25A; whereas the moving eye of 26B operates like the multiple perspectives described in 25B.

The notable difference between illustrations 25A,B and 26 A,B is the dimension. Using Duchamp's terminology, 25A,B describes an eye in 3D space ("eye3") looking at a 3D cube; whereas, 26A,B represents an eye in 3D space making observations of a 2D plane. Both 25B and 26B require time and movement in 3D space of the 3D eye ; whereas, 25A and 26A illustrate what Duchamp describes as the "vision" of the "same eye from a fixed point of view (linear perspective)."1


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