Robert Rauschenberg was invited to take part in the group exhibition Les 41 présentent Iris Clert [or 41 Portraits of Iris Clert] for the inauguration of Galerie Iris Clert’s new exhibition space in Paris in 1961.
Calvin Tomkins reports that Rauschenberg, who was in Sweden for the installation of another exhibition at the time, forgot to make a portrait as promised. At the last minute he sent the telegram stating “THIS IS A PORTRAIT OF IRIS CLERT IF I SAY SO” for inclusion in the show.
Rauschenberg’s purely conceptual contribution destabilizes all conventions of traditional portraiture, proclaiming identity as a subjective condition: unstable and at the whim of the speaker (or reader). The referent of the “I” in his text becomes ambiguous as each viewer reads the work.