The Dallas Morning News

‘I think like a comedian and make like an artist’

Shelby David Meier exhibit makes you scratch your head

- By DANIELLE AVRAM Special Contributo­r

Q: What is the difference between a duck?

A: One of its legs is both the same.

Scratching your head? Well, that’s kind of the point.

This classic non sequitur is an example of absurdist comedy. Rather than deliver the satisfacto­ry one-two/questionpu­nch-line delivery of a traditiona­l joke, this one is about toying with the structure of a joke itself, posing a seemingly straightfo­rward question in a nonsensica­l way.

Functionin­g similarly to a Zen Buddhist koan (a riddle or puzzle designed to relax and free the mind during meditation), the joke requires the abandonmen­t of linear thinking, serving more as an investigat­ion into the relationsh­ip between language and humor and the subversion of expectatio­ns.

This type of thinking dominates the practice of Dallas

artist Shelby David Meier, whose exhibition, “The Difference Between a Duck,” is on display at Beefhaus in Exposition Park.

The show — Meier’s master’s thesis exhibition (he is a graduate student at Southern Methodist University) — brings together an assortment of objects and different mediums to address ideas about comedy, semiotics, science and conceptual art. Rather than present some sort of definitive set of ideologies or modes of working, Meier’s work is a series of investigat­ions that distill cosmic, existentia­l, manand-machine concepts into singular gestures.

Past pieces have included a collection of Whataburge­r cups scattered across the floor, a Roomba trapped in a life-size maze and a large-scale cat tower that bore a striking resemblanc­e to the work of Mark di Suvero.

Drawing inspiratio­n from artists such as Donald Judd, Richard Tuttle and John Baldessari, Meier also pulls from the world of stand-up comedy, citing Andy Kaufman as an influence.

The artist has dabbled as a comedian, appearing last fall in the Nasher Artist Circle event Now That’s What I Call Stand Up! Vol. 1. Meier started his set by playing Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner,” only to set his guitar down partway through and begin reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite

Jest, while the Hendrix recording (which had been playing all along) finished the song.

The moment was truly weird and inexplicab­le, but if you know Meier and his work, it made perfect sense. As he says, “I think like a comedian and make like an artist. Which doesn’t always mean what I make is necessaril­y ‘funny,’ but sometimes I might think it’s funny because I know I’m doing the ‘wrong’ thing.”

Humor is in full effect in “The Difference Between a Duck.” Sculptures composed of boxes covered in tube socks (which look like large-scale Jenga blocks) dot the front gallery, one with a torn loaf of bread, cast in iron, painted bright red and formed into a cairn, delicately perched on top.

A dining room set sits in the middle, the chairs and table legs covered in sisal rope and carpet, a grown-up, “proper” cat scratching post.

In the back room, a video shows a sock tower spinning against a cheesy, 1990s-style brick wall, a strained laugh track ebbing and flowing as it turns — a sad comedian performing for an invisible audience.

Science fiction plays a major role through an interpreta­tion of Isaac Asimov’s The Last

Question, most apparent in the form of a book of poetry that Meier assembled by reading the original story to his computer’s text-to-speech program, and capturing snippets of the oft-garbled interpreta­tion.

The exhibition leaves you somewhere between a laugh and a grimace, chuckling at the absurdity of the world, the universe, the galaxy, while contemplat­ing your own prepostero­us existence. In that moment, we become the joke. And it’s best just to keep laughing and shaking your head.

To take in Meier’s work, one might mistakenly dismiss it as merely goofy or sardonic, or the type of conceptual work deliberate­ly designed to confuse the viewer in order to make it appear more mystically obtuse.

While it is to a degree both goofy and sardonic (Meier is himself, after all, both), the work is actually pretty straightfo­rward. Yes, those are 12-sided dice strewn across the gallery floor; yes, that is a flower vase made out of a Michael Myers’ latex mask; yes, those sculptures are iron casts of torn bread loaves.

To know Meier is to best understand his work — if you were to look at it and ask why. He would in all likelihood respond, why not?

 ?? Jae S. Lee/Staff Photograph­er ?? Dallas artist Shelby David Meier has dabbled in standup comedy.
Jae S. Lee/Staff Photograph­er Dallas artist Shelby David Meier has dabbled in standup comedy.
 ?? Photos by Jae S. Lee/Staff Photograph­er ?? Shelby David Meier holds his head as he contemplat­es his artwork at Beefhaus gallery in Exposition Park in Dallas.
Photos by Jae S. Lee/Staff Photograph­er Shelby David Meier holds his head as he contemplat­es his artwork at Beefhaus gallery in Exposition Park in Dallas.
 ??  ?? Stacked Hypercube Drawings (One Incomplete) is part of Meier’s “The Difference Between a Duck” exhibit.
Stacked Hypercube Drawings (One Incomplete) is part of Meier’s “The Difference Between a Duck” exhibit.
 ??  ?? This sculpture is composed of boxes covered in tube socks with a cast-iron, painted torn loaf of bread on top.
This sculpture is composed of boxes covered in tube socks with a cast-iron, painted torn loaf of bread on top.

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