Grit Richter, Forever Now, 2018, oil, acrylic and bleach on canvas, 64 × 47 1⁄8".

Grit Richter, Forever Now, 2018, oil, acrylic and bleach on canvas, 64 × 47 1⁄8".

Grit Richter

The work of Hamburg-based Grit Richter encompasses painting, sculpture, and installation (she is also a veteran of her city’s underground electronic-music scene), but her recent exhibition “The Space Between Us” put the emphasis firmly on painting. In fact, one of the works was titled Forever Now, 2018, name checking the controversial 2014–15 state-of-the-art-of-painting survey at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In this ensemble, the painting seemed to reinterpret the MOMA exhibition’s cyberpunk-derived theme of “atemporality” as, I think, a kind of classic space opera. Whereas Laura Hoptman, the curator of “The Forever Now,” saw contemporary painting as touching on all of history as a reservoir of forms and images, Richter (despite a certain knack for retro styling) seems to have her eye not on the past but on an idea of space as the future home for potential forms and images. In Forever Now, that (pictorial) space is hard not to read as outer space: A pair of earth-toned spheres (shadowed circles bleached into the canvas) float in a calm pas de deux in a gridded-off black field, while a couple of neon-hued vermiform blobs curve by them. At the top, a sort of triangular pointer seems to serve as a cursor trying, perhaps unsuccessfully, to pinpoint this grand expanse on-screen.

But for Richter—as the exhibition title suggests and the gallery press release confirms—the wide-open and seemingly celestial space of the painting is also a metaphor for interpersonal space, the charged field in which amorous vicissitudes work themselves out. Luckily, the artist treats these lightly. The paintings take on a playfully diagrammatic quality, sometimes almost cartoonlike, as in Sometimes I Need You Really Badly and Sometimes I Feel So Disconnected, both 2018, smaller paintings whose forms and palette resemble those of Forever Now, but in which the swooping serpentine forms that play about the floating spheres are given little rudimentary hands; whatever tactile gesture they might be capable of could only be overwhelmed by the vastness of the space they’d need to encompass.

Some of the other paintings in the show took this incipient figuration a little further. A couple of them played on the idea if not exactly of portraiture, in any case of the face. In Das Leben eben (Life Just), 2018, all it takes to humanize what would otherwise have been a rather severe geometrical abstraction is a pair of well-placed white circles—open eyes, of course—while in Thanks for Everything, 2016–17, a couple of sets of concentric blue, black, white, and red arcs evoke lowered eyelids. In the show’s largest work, To the Moon and Back, 2018, whose title makes explicit the equation between personal intimacy and interplanetary space that animated all the paintings in the exhibition, a couple of bulbous ovate forms seem to be getting it on with delicious ardency, though Richter’s abstract-ish mode leaves the details discreetly vague. Anyway, it’s the suave way the painter puts her shifting colors through their electric transmutations, in the end, that tells the painting’s tale.

Richter may have held in check for this exhibition her propensity to venture into installation, but not entirely: A couple of the walls were gridded off with delicate silver tape, the scheme echoing the bleached-out patterns in some of the paintings and thereby proposing the exhibition space as not merely a neutral container, but a sort of mediator between Richter’s paintings’ evocation of astronomical scale on the one hand and psychological minutiae on the other. And then the neon sculpture Hier möcht’ ich gern für immer bleiben (Here I’d Like to Stay Forever), 2018, whose red, white, and blue arcs echo the shut eyes implicitly painted into Thanks for Everything, suggested that the limits of the canvas are more porous than we think: Whatever takes place within them might be part of our space after all.