Equinox Shocks West Village

Is the West Village becoming … prudish? In late January, the Equinox gym on Greenwich Avenue and West 12th Street posted a new ad campaign in its windows, featuring photos of buff personalities-including Lisa Marie, director Tim Burton’s former flame-in compromising situations of undress. Two weeks ago, the gym removed the ads after several complaints from women in the neighborhood.

“We were shocked,” said Judy Taylor, Equinox’s vice president of public relations. “We expected this from Scarsdale or Darien, Conn., but never the West Village.”

“The biggest complaint was that the Village was a community, and they didn’t think the ad campaign reflected their community,” said Equinox general manager Gian Pozzolini . “They felt offended, so we took them down. There were about 18 complaints in all. A lot of the women had children, and this was a pretty strong message.”

The campaign-created by Lipman advertising agency and shot by fashion photographer Stephen Klein-is still running in all 12 of Equinox’s other Manhattan locations, uptown and downtown, apparently generating little if any complaint from the stroller set on the Upper West Side.

The ad that drew the most ire may be one featuring Chiaki Kuriyama, who plays Lucy Liu’s bodyguard in Kill Bill . The photo shows Ms. Kuriyama-wearing leather hot pants, fishnet stockings and thigh-high boots-posed determinedly with a sword. One Asian woman wrote Equinox an angry e-mail citing “violence against Asian women.”

“I think when you do something that is pushing even a little bit, you’re going to have negative feedback,” said David Lipman, chairman and creative director of Lipman advertising. “We weren’t stereotyping Chiaki. There is a class that features those forza swords. It’s a martial-arts aerobics class. You get a workout with it. You don’t kill anybody with it.”

Mr. Lipman-a third-generation member of his family’s advertising business and a devoted Equinox regular-made no apologies.

“It wasn’t about sexual exploitation-although we did use that,” he said. “It is a glorification of what you can accomplish. I’m 48 years old and I have a 29-inch waist. I was considerably overweight. And on 9/11, when I ran from 19th Street to my family home on Murray Street, I realized I needed to work on my condition. And it’s a very sexy experience, getting your body into shape.”

C.C. Carnie, 32, a music-marketing executive and Equinox member, concurred. “I love the campaign,” she said. “It is very encouraging to hope to attain that kind of body.”

While Equinox says that women of all ages have complained, the reaction from the very fit and under-30 set is perhaps the most surprising.

“Basically, it’s all about sex,” said Nicole Smith, 24, an Equinox trainer. “Is it different than the Calvin Klein ads? No. Do I think it’s good? No. As a trainer, I’d like the motivation to be as healthy and good as possible. Sex is not the only way to sell products, but it’s the only thing used today. Look at Janet Jackson. What brought her to show her breast on Saturday Night Live ? When is enough enough?”

On a recent Monday afternoon in the café adjoining Equinox’s 19th Street branch, where the ads are still running, Equinox member Laura Hidalgo shared a salad with Daniel Keene. Both are dancers with the American Ballet Theatre. Ms. Hidalgo, a 20-year-old gazelle with piercing blue eyes, noted one of the ads, which shows Lisa Marie hanging from a bar and straddling the shoulders of martial artist Lucas Kern. “It’s vulgar,” said Ms. Hidalgo. “That one shocks me every time. I see it as too sexual.”

“I think it’s gross,” said Mr. Keene, who is 19. “It doesn’t make me want to work out.”

“The other day we were walking up the street and we said, ‘What is that over there?'” said Ms. Hidalgo. “If you cover the medicine ball in the shot, it looks like the cover of a dirty magazine.”

Mr. Lipman might call such objections naïve.

“What do we go to the gym for first?” he said. “A very physical benefit-how ya look, an image-driven idea. Then there’s the mind, the soul-then health. I went there to look better. And your sex is better. So anyone who wants to deny that is full of it.”

-Susan M. Kirschbaum

Who?

Eli Sudbrack would like to be anonymous, and he’d like you to be anonymous, too. Or, more precisely, he’d like you to be Assume Vivid Astro Focus.

That’s the name under which he creates his artwork, like the installation currently on display at the 2004 Whitney Biennial. For the show, Mr. Sudbrack wallpapered a room in a brightly colored collage that changes color as different colored lights flash. A winding staircase leads to nowhere, and there’s a video featuring the music of the two-person rock group, Los Super Elegantes, who, according to Mr. Sudbrack, have been “contaminated” with his “references.” The California-based band will perform inside the room later this month, when they’ll be Assume Vivid Astro Focus, too.

Assume Vivid Astro Focus is one of dozens of artists’ collectives currently infiltrating the gallery world. Some collectives have already broken up once the identities of their contributors became recognized. They mostly have nonsensical names: Beige, Dearraindrop, Honeygun Labs.

“I wanted to use a pseudonym to be inclusive rather than exclusive,” said Mr. Sudbrack, peering out from under a black mop of hair as he pulled on a Stella Artois at the back of Pink Pony on Ludlow Street. “The thing that bothers me about the art world is that you create this one artist, and he becomes a star, and then you have this whole thing around the one artist and the artist’s individuality. Like Damien Hirst: Suddenly it’s all about Damien Hirst …. It’s all about the personality and not just about the work. So I wanted to detach from that. Like, Damien Hirst people suddenly care who he is, what he likes, what he likes to do in his private life, and I just don’t fucking care! … I don’t want people to keep feeling like the artist is this special being. Not only can I be Assume Vivid Astro Focus or my collaborators can be Assume Vivid Astro Focus, but anyone can be Assume Vivid Astro Focus.”

Originally from Rio de Janeiro, the 36-year-old Mr. Sudbrack took his first pseudonym in the mid-90’s, when he was teaching art at a São Paolo college. He put the name Diamantino on postcards he made using photos of unsavory parts of the city, and then mixed the cards in with tourist postcards at newsstands.

“That’s when I first realized it was important to me to use a different name that wasn’t actually a real name. I didn’t want it to be perceived as art right up front,” he said, shrugging off his Puma sweatshirt to reveal a faded blue T-shirt with German writing on it and a Lisa Simpson–reminiscent caricature tattooed on his upper arm.

When he moved to Manhattan in 1998, he took another pseudonym-Superastrolab-partially because he was creating his own music videos to songs that he liked by Lynyrd Skynyrd and Yoko Ono and wanted to avoid the music-piracy police. He decided that Superastrolab sounded too “hip” and that he needed something “longer and more difficult,” so he wrote down random words from old album covers-and Assume Vivid Astro Focus was born.

Umber-skinned, large-eyed and striking in a way that suggests he’d be a great-looking drag queen, Mr. Sudbrack tried to explain his philosophy. “The utopian idea is that people going to a show of mine, or seeing the work in another way, will be inspired by it or changed by it or influenced by it in some way, and then they’d start making work in their home, either under the Assume Vivid Astro Focus pseudonym or not,” he said. “People think that people will copy or steal their ideas, but I don’t think it’s ever about stealing. It’s about being influenced. I can be influenced by being with you here right now, or by looking at a painting, or by having this beer or listening to a song … so just let it go!”

Last year at his show at Deitch, he had one artist (Matthew Brennon) create the posters for the show, which showed simple graphic triangles not at all like the whimsical work-with its Gustav Klimt–inspired swirls and Peter Max–style boldness-that was inside the show, some of which Mr. Sudbrack created with other artists. Also part of Assume Vivid Astro Focus was a tattoo artist who held court in the gallery after spending the opening etching an Eli Sudbrack design on the arm of a Russian porn star-who therefore became Assume Vivid Astro Focus, too.

“It’s a reflection of how we live right now,” said Mr. Sudbrack. “People want to call it a movement, but I don’t think of it as a movement. It came out of the necessity of people working together: ‘Oh, I like you, I want to work with you.’ It’s natural.”

Before he left, Mr. Sudbrack asked us not to use his real name. But what’s in a name?

-Anna Jane Grossman

Equinox Shocks West Village