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Left to right,

Juan Downey,

Willoughby Sharp,

Tina L'Hotsky and

Frank Gillette,


Photographer unknown. Photo courtesy Pamela Seymour Smith Sharp

Close Encounters

by Frank Gillette

THIS PHOTOGRAPH WAS TAKEN in 1974 during a cross-country trip I took with the artist Willoughby Sharp [1936-2008], who's wearing the Indian headdress. I imagine we were somewhere near the border of Arizona and New Mexico, en route from New York to Los Angeles for the exhibition "Collector's Video", curated by Jane Livingston and Maurice Tuchman at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which included my work along with others such as Bruce Nauman and Joan Jonas. Willoughby was driving a funky black Cadillac with bug fins that was at least 10 or 15 years old at the time.

Holding the video camera is the artist Juan Downey [1940-1993], and the woman is Tina L'Hotsky [1952-2008], Willoughby's girlfriend at the time. We picked her up in Cleveland. She would eventually be called the Queen of the Mudd Club, which she cofounded.

As you can here, Willoughby was an unpredictable dresser. The first time I met him, during a group show I was in at Sonnabend Gallery, he was wearing an outfit the made him look like he crawled off the cover of Sgt. Pepper's. He was always involved in a kind of costumery. I think that Tina was wearing a wig. She was very quiet on this trip. almost silent, while the rest of us were trading insults and jokes.

Now hold on to your knickers. Outside St.Louis, headed for Amarillo, Tex., we had a UFO sighting. There were three of them, all hovering and throwing off a metallic refection. Everyone on the highway at the same time saw them, and was pointing to the sky.

The next day, we left Amarillo and it happened again but with two of them, not three. They didn't appear in space suddenly, and they didn't appear all at once. They were like a cloud or a contrail that gradually became more solid. Forgive the cliché, but they were like spinning saucers. The strangest part is that when Downey tried to record them with his video camera, they didn't show up on the screen.

On the third day, we were disappointed when we didn't see them.

Later we agreed not to talk about it. We figured we would be rounded up and brought to the asylum. But now I think I can tell the story.


—As told to Brian Boucher.  

Art in America







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