Raised in and around New York by French parents, Jeanne Reynal (1903–83) spent most of the 1930s apprenticed to a Russian mosaicist in Paris. She came back with strong opinions: Mosaic was neither painting nor sculpture, she wrote in a 1964 monograph, and Renaissance artists had “taken an ax” to the ancient art form by laying their tiles flush instead of letting them protrude to catch the light.
Policing genre boundaries no longer seems so important. But the strongest pieces in this show, titled “Mosaic Is Light: Work by Jeanne Reynal, 1940–1970,” derive much of their considerable impact from their disconcerting perch between painting and sculpture.
“Ogo,” a cement-on-board panel just over 4 feet by 5 feet, is a busy abstract whorl of reds, grays and blacks. As a painting, it would be overwrought. But the variety of its textures — the pits, the streaks, the unexpected glitters as you shift from foot to foot — draw your attention away from the composition and, in a way, counterbalance it. Three 1959 monochromes — a flat red hexagon, an enormous yellow diamond, and a triptych of blue squares, all of them strewn with broken glass and mother-of-pearl — go further, wringing so much action out of a broken surface that the very notion of a flat one comes to seem absurd.
Seven elegant monoliths that Reynal made in the early ’70s after a trip to Africa do something like the opposite. Covered with red, black and gold tiles so shiny they’re almost reflective, and studded, in one case, with palm-size pieces of mother-of-pearl, their surfaces dazzle, letting their sinuous shapes slip right behind your eyes.