SALT LAKE CITY — Artist Mary Toscano’s work is contemplative and methodical. Her drawings betray the patient and meditative process underlying an artistic craft which requires constant repetition to master. Her exhibition In Solution, on view at Salt Lake City’s Alice Gallery, posits water-laden environments with eroded household items such as eyeglasses and gardening tools as allegories for the frailty of memory.

The salience of this message highlights both the literal — the very real environmental catastrophe stemming from Utah’s rapidly depleting water supply — and the symbolic — harkening to land art icon Robert Smithson’s beautifully prophetic 1968 essay “The Sedimentation of the Mind,” which illustrated poetic parallels between the erosion of mental processes and geological entropy.

Mary Toscano, “In Phase” (2022), pencil on paper, 36 x 48 inches

In Solution contains four new large-scale landscape drawings, all featuring bodies of water combined with intricate pencil illustrations of decaying or otherwise tarnished objects. Toscano, known for her amazingly detailed renderings of a variety of subjects, has in this body of work illustrated a sense of foreboding and loneliness, captured in the isolation of single objects within the cavernous landscape that surrounds them.

One work features a solitary wicker chair at the edge of a shore, casting a shadow on the pale beach. Toscano’s depiction of water is detailed at the point of the wave’s approach onto the shore and fades as the water blends into the horizon’s skyline. Elsewhere, she depicts fabricated elements like a swimming pool and a stone monument, each sinking into water.  

Mary Toscano, “In Phase” (2022), detail

In addition to the new works, the exhibition features earlier pieces, also large-scale drawings. Among them, “A Meeting of Our Parallels” (2018), which first debuted at the now defunct gallery God Hates Robots in 2018 as a conceptual interactive work that invited participants to take individual portions of the drawing.

“Each cut was determined by the patron, creating an interactive work where the audience participated in the work’s ‘destruction,’ while at the same time creating more than a dozen shards that are forever linked in this unique community,” Toscano stated in an Instagram post.

Toscano’s show is significant not just for the salience of its message but because hers is the last exhibition at the much-admired Alice Gallery, one of two flagship exhibition spaces run, and either closed or repurposed, by the Utah Division of Arts and Museums (UDA&M). 

Installation view of In Solutions at Alice Gallery, September 16 through November 11, 2022
Installation view of In Solutions at Alice Gallery, September 16 through November 11, 2022

As Salt Lake City’s downtown undergoes radical transformation due to massive growth — and by extension soaring rents, new construction, and gentrification — the absence of two state-funded exhibition spaces may create an even greater void for working artists eager for opportunities to expose the public to their work. With a handful of museums and limited commercial gallery offerings, artists often bemoan how quickly they tap out on exhibition opportunities in the state.

The opening reception for Toscano’s show drew a large crowd, replete with a live band and ample conversation on a beautiful warm night on Salt Lake City’s historic South Temple. The joyful event was a reminder of exhibitions as places of communal conversation and gathering.

Glendinning Mansion (Alice Gallery) exterior view

Toscano’s exhibition seems fitting as the gallery’s farewell not only because she is a well-known figure within Salt Lake City’s art scene, but the minute details embedded in her drawings beckon the sort of close inspection and discussion that makes brick-and-mortar art spaces thrive. Having a healthy arts infrastructure with venues and opportunities for investment and growth is vital to this effort, and one that’s increasingly elusive in government ecosystems that view art as a superfluous, rather than a necessary component of civic life. 

Mary Toscano, “In Form” (2022), pencil on paper, 36 x 48 inches

In Solution continues at Alice Gallery (617 East South Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah) through November 11. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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Scotti Hill

Scotti Hill (she/her) is a Utah-based art critic, curator, and lawyer. In addition to teaching art history at Westminster College, she’s a regular contributor to 15 Bytes: Utah’s Art Magazine...