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Matt Saunders

I'M EVER FATED to recall a bizarre marquee: BASQUIAT VS. MARTIN. Granted, it makes little sense as a choice or proper bout. Yet it was a formative happy accident, visiting New York from Baltimore with all of seventeen years behind me, to find those two artists’ retrospectives facing off in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s fall 1992 lineup. Jean-Michel Basquiat had the compelling whiff of 1980s Gotham cool, a party I’d never get to attend. But Agnes Martin was an artist I thought I knew. I thought I “got” it, and I confess that with all the idiot swagger of youth, I almost skipped her show, which I assumed would be lovely, pious, and canonical. In the end, I went in. And Martin sure learned me. In my imagination, she and Basquiat—the hotshot forty-eight years her junior—fought to a draw, and I was the one who left humbled and impressed.

I’ve recently come back to pondering that

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