Deploying various forms of art world communication (commercial, bureaucratic, and interpersonal), Ray Johnson made a portrait of the curator Samuel J. Wagstaff during the mid-1960s that unworked the singular and unified image of his subject and emphasized identity as contingent upon a person’s position in their social network. Although many have noted the networked character of Johnson’s mail art practice—wherein participants were connected to each other with and through continually circulated collaged correspondence—few have explored it in relation to contemporary network theory and none have examined how it relates to portraiture of the period. By analyzing the remains of Johnson’s portrait of Wagstaff housed at the Archives of American Art, I argue that Johnson transformed the genre by representing personhood as an embodied and open system that resists discrete categorization and total disclosure, particularly regarding gender and sexuality.

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2020

Notes/Citation Information

Published in Archives of American Art Journal, v. 59, no. 2.

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An accompanying video is available online from the journal.