New York

Assume Vivid Astro Focus

Deitch Projects

It’s easy to imagine Assume Vivid Astro Focus (aka thirtysomething Eli Sudbrack) submitting the winning bid to design the bar at the local student union. But as an artist whose practice aims to represent, according to the breathless press release, a “record of everything that is a part of someone’s life and everything that’s added to that person’s life every day,” his output is somewhat less convincing. An overripe blend of psychedelia and glam, pop kitsch and kitsch pop, AVAF’s attempt at sensory overload is fun for the first five minutes and a drag thereafter.

Under a name forged from two disparate musical sources—original industrial band Throbbing Gristle’s album Assume Power Focus and late-’80s indie merchants Ultra Vivid Scene—Sudbrack invokes a turgid mishmash of inspirations ranging from Brazilian Carnival to prog-rock album-cover design to children’s coloring books to Tibetan devotional art. The appealing notion of an individual giving himself a name that suggests a collective seems to have been abandoned all too early; a parade of semi-obscure collaborators including Matthew Brannon, Slava Mogutin, Joseph Ari Aloi (aka JK5), Gerard Maynard, Michael Wetzel, Los Super Elegantes, and “action daddy” had been drafted to add their two cents’ worth.

In line with the gallery’s penchant for customizing its Grand Street storefront (Richard Woods’s mock-Tudor cladding is the most successful intervention so far), AVAF introduced themselves with a multicolored neon CONTAGIOUS mounted on an awkward plume of black and red flame. An acid-green and purple lobby led into the main space, where every surface was covered by a riotous mural in which decorative and abstract elements were combined with heroic figures and architectural fragments. Only the end wall, which functioned as a screen for the projection of a campy pop video, had been left untouched.

“Walking on Thin Ice,” AVAF and Honeygun Labs’ take on a 1981 song of the same name by Yoko Ono, demonstrates genuine pop instinct, but the accompanying images lag some way behind. While the video looks luscious enough on first encounter (the inflated scale helps), its stars’ narcissistic preening and pouting soon wear thin. Stylistically, there are disturbing echoes of ’80s embarrassments Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and isn’t that stop-motion ending straight out of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” video (which, while certainly an artifact, still makes AVAF’s efforts look pedestrian)? Naturally, AVAF consider themselves pan-cultural samplers and remixers and thus above any arguments about originality—but they could definitely benefit from sharper curatorial judgment.

Last December, AVAF wallpapered John Connelly’s gallery for K48’s group show “Teenage Bedroom,” and in the context of a pseudodomestic setting filled with other people’s creations and cast-offs, their wraparound exuberance was somehow easier to absorb. This time, though, the stacks of spaceships, robots, and water pistols, Buddhas, Shivas, and Madonnas that filled much of the gallery’s secondary space were too scattered and too scattershot to register as much more than adolescent clutter. Some of AVAF’s drawings display more, well, focus, involving fields of graffiti-inspired typography and savage dètournements of corporate logos. While again nothing new, they at least point in a less airy-fairy direction than the rest of the show, especially because they had to battle for attention with the hysterical bet-hedging that surrounded them.

Michael Wilson