I puzzled over the word “euqinimod” in the exhibition’s title for some time, until I figured out that it’s the artist’s name spelled backwards. And for viewers familiar with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s work of the past two decades, the show does seem like an inversion of her typical approach, and an unusual statement for her first solo exhibition in a US gallery. She is mainly known to New York audiences for her elaborate installations, like chronotopes & dioramas (2009), a project that the Dia Art Foundation commissioned for The Hispanic Society of America, or the performance-concerts NY.2022 (2008) and T.1912 (2011) at the Guggenheim Museum. Gonzalez-Foerster’s signature style is to supply her audience with a minimally furnished stage and invite the viewer’s participation with props, which are often books on subjects that inspire her thinking, from “tropical modernism” to experimental science fiction.

While “euqinimod & costumes” does include a roomy couch and reading material, it feels detached from Gonzalez-Foerster’s larger body of work. It is essentially an installation of her clothes, interspersed with memorabilia like snapshots, childhood drawings, domestic furnishings, and even a painting by her aunt. Strains of Richard Wagner’s 1845 Tannhäuser opera waft out from a smaller back room, a dark space that seems to open onto a dark blue grotto (which is actually a German-Romantic painting projected on to the wall). Perplexingly, it is guarded by a dressmaker’s dummy wearing a military coat. Back in the larger room, the round velvet settee at its center, which seems straight out of a Victorian museum, reaffirms the nineteenth-century thread running throughout the show.

The walls have been painted in soothing pastels—all the better to set off the colorful clothes hanging on them. They are casual items—shirts, sweaters, dresses—clearly worn by everyday use, but the labels are impressive: Balenciaga, Comme des Garçons, Courrèges, Katharine Hamnett, Martin Margiela. The collection either bespeaks a good eye for influential designers or determined thrift-store scouting. Or it simply reflects the artist’s own professional history: Gonzalez-Foerster recently collaborated with former Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière on the conceptual revamping of the label’s retail stores. She’s also responsible for the contemporary-art manifesto printed on a Balenciaga trapeze dress from 2011 on view in the gallery: “I can’t work / I didn’t want to make ‘high art,’ I had no interest in using paint, I wanted to find something that anyone could relate to without knowing about contemporary art.”

One finds further clues in the gallery’s “cartography,” an illustrated chart which identifies each object’s provenance, as well as in the fanzine produced by Gonzalez-Foerster’s longtime collaborator Tristan Bera, which is a collage of material from the artist’s past and present projects relating to the objects on view. There we learn that the German-Romantic references come from her recent M.2062 opera (2012–ongoing), a research-based project informed by Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk, which involves the artist assuming the personas—and costumes—of historic characters and figures; this in turn explains the posters in the main space, which capture her dressed up as Scarlett O’Hara and Edgar Allan Poe, as well as the military outfit (meant to be the royal costume of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, a great patron of Wagner’s), which hangs in the darkened gallery.

But the leitmotifs and backstories aren’t really necessary for understanding the exhibition (and they don’t, in any case, cohere into a meaningful storyline). The main installation has its own palpable, almost musical, rhythms: a snapshot from 1977, for example, reveals a younger Gonzalez-Foerster sitting next to the Indian “tree of life” print we see on the wall, as well as a wooden rocking chair with the same curving back as the chair placed in front of it now. Lean back on the couch, and you might notice that its green upholstery and gold fringe reappear as curtains in the O’Hara poster. Sit at another angle, and a warped, Quaker-style mirror perfectly frames a pink dress hung against a blue wall—its color combination echoed once in the adjacent pink-and-blue painting, and again in the red leather jacket draped on a blue modernist chair. The juxtaposition of dress and drawing appears a third time with a pair of objects beside the mirror: a child’s nightgown (the artist’s own) is positioned next to a nearly life-size drawing of it. The doublings and correspondences reveal themselves gradually, suggesting connections that nonetheless remain elusive in terms of any deeper significance.

This all might suggest that “euqinimod” is a deceptively modest installation with deeper insights within, but its subject, reach, and ambition are also quite humble. It offers a moment of quiet reflection, a visual game of color and rhythm, presented through material that is almost, but not quite, accessible to the viewer. Perhaps this is merely the flip side of Gonzalez-Foerster’s previous large-scale installations, or a glimpse into the biographical underpinnings of her prior work. Either way, it’s an unusual gallery debut: a surprisingly personal encounter with an artist who, despite her interest in the intimate and the domestic, has never directed the spotlight onto herself to quite this extent.