Sophie Reinhold, Das kann das leben kosten (That Could Cost You Your Life), 2020, oil on marble powder on jute, 55 × 43 1⁄4".

Sophie Reinhold, Das kann das leben kosten (That Could Cost You Your Life), 2020, oil on marble powder on jute, 55 × 43 1⁄4".

Sophie Reinhold

The title of one of Sophie Reinhold’s paintings here, Gewöhne dich nicht daran, 2019—referencing an anti-drug addiction slogan of the German Democratic Republic and translating as “Don’t get used to it”—might also apply to her purposely elliptical practice. The Berlin-based artist frequently works up pale paintings on a ground of jute and marble dust, with pieces of canvas cut out and stitched onto their surfaces to create ghostly figurations, like shallow reliefs on a facade. In this show, “Das kann das Leben kosten” (That Could Cost You Your Life), the chimerical expanse of the opening painting, Courtroom, 2020, was fashioned that way, with a small spectral face—judge? defendant?—floating within it. The canvas beside it, R U concerned? (Eiermann), 2020, was much brighter and tighter. A melancholy Humpty Dumpty or, as the subtitle would have it, egg man—maybe referencing the twentieth-century German architect Egon Eiermann—wanders lost and exhausted amid the rainbow contours of a modernist stripe painting, toting the minor enigma of an unidentifiable blue book. The show also included a shaped canvas, text-driven works such as Gewöhne dich nicht daran, cartoonish sexualized scenarios, and more. The initial effect was of energetic misdirection, reflex swerving without anything very tangible behind it.

Yet a breadcrumb trail slowly became manifest. In I know I have the right to remain silent, but I want you to know I am a screamer, 2020, a busty redhead in heels and miniskirt being ticketed by a goofy-looking patrolman thrusts her butt toward his crotch as she leans over the trunk of a car. Across the room was Poli, 2019, a blaring white-on-blue text painting nodding to early Ed Ruscha, its wording clearly a cropping of POLIZEI. Das kann das Leben kosten, 2020, spells out another GDR-era apothegm in dirty pastel tones, an antic monkey perched on the second word. (Reinhold, born in 1981, lived her childhood in that vanished world.) A repeated motif of travel, of getting from A to B—or not getting there because the cops pull you over—sometimes twists toward the absurd. In Mann mit Wurst (Man with Sausage), 2020, a tiny, suited man clings to a sausage with horsy legs that, like an unstoppable bucking phallus, tugs him through an empty brown landscape. BVG, 2019, a taut graphic canvas featuring interlocking black and yellow forms, refracts the bumblebee colors of the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe, the city’s transport system.

The show’s vectors, then, seemed to include a travelogue of its host city over the course of the artist’s life, the shifting shape but eternal presence (and gendering) of authority and judgment, and the perpetual problematic of converting such themes into art with a light touch. Several works here alluded impatiently to active looking and conversely to being observed: In the vaporous, pinky-orange Untitled, 2020, a disembodied hand grasps a fringed circle that contains an eye, and floating eyeballs were secreted, Where’s Waldo style, within many of the other compositions. In the pallid tropical landscape The truth, a cave (allegory of the cave), 2020—the final work if you read the show clockwise—Reinhold goes full Plato to retroactively detach what’s envisioned from what might actually be there.

Das kann das Leben kosten” scanned as a fractured essay on the decorum of sociohistorical assertion. In a handout, the apparent neutrality of Reinhold’s method was compared to that of Rachel Cusk’s in the novelist’s much-admired Outline trilogy (2014–18), wherein the narrator is more lacuna than presence. But rather than lacking an authorial viewpoint, Reinhold’s show felt populated by many, as she mixed diverse signals into something approaching disheveled equilibrium.