Seeming to juggle the latest studies on global climate change and his own idiosyncratic theories, John Hodany paints intriguing landscapes and interiors that verge on sci-fi surrealism. In his latest show, “Habitat Interchange,” the young artist, who lives in Berlin and New York, exhibited large paintings on both canvas and paper, as well as some smaller studies and a couple of sculptures. Incorporating subtle art-historical allusions and witty painterly devices, these works present a future that is simultaneously disconcerting and playful-like a clever riff on the History Channel’s “Life After People.”
In the 4½-by-9-foot triptych Last Inhabitants-Interchange 2 of 4 (2007), pigeons are the sole occupants of a desolate and flooded subway stop. They walk among the cardboard boxes and wooden planks that humanity has discarded. As with many of Hodany’s paintings, the individual panels are treated like elements in a multipart frieze; the edge of the canvas often capriciously crops the imagery, as if intimating that it just might continue somewhere else in another section. In fact, the artist sometimes shuffles panels around while still painting, and thus motifs are likely to reappear in different works.
In Peaceable Kingdom-Interchange 2 of 4 (2010, 6 by 12 feet), also a triptych, the pigeons have wandered into a bar. The composition alludes to Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère but is also peppered with subtle geometric references. The gridded beer tap handles appear as if they were designed by Sol LeWitt, and many of the liquor bottles have labels that echo the colorful patterns of Navajo textiles. In the first panel, a cat is perched behind the bar, nose aligned with the right edge of the canvas, and seems to gaze into the next section at a framed painting on the bar’s wall of seals surfacing from beneath an ice floe. The actual painting of seals, titled Lucky Stars (2009), hung elsewhere in the gallery. Thin rivulets of blood form zigzag patterns in the crevices of ice, a telltale sign that the seal’s predecessors may have had their heads bashed in.
The 8½-foot-high, handcrafted Lock Claw Skill Crane (2008) resembles an arcade game; inside an enclosure, a lobster claw hangs by a chain above numerous painted padlock forms. The sculpture has moving parts, but attempts to manipulate them are futile: the controls are ineffectual. While this three-dimensional allegory might offer a commentary on the inherent flaws of human progress, Hodany is most successful when he merges his technical skills with a more direct ecological message, as in Venus in Antarctica (2010). Much like the fragments of ice floating in this abstracted polar seascape of grays and blues, the stately seal is drifting into oblivion. While her habitat perilously breaks apart, she seems to suffer a similar fate: her head, which shifts to the left where it overlaps the horizon, is nearly completely severed from her body. The scope and pathos of this painting lingers, making it a sort of de facto Guernica for the melting ice caps.
Photo: John Hodany: Venus in Antarctica, 2010, acrylic on paper inlay, 54 by 96 inches; at ZuÌ?rcher.