Richard, Frances, Artforum International
We're postmillennial and allegedly post-feminist, but as a culture we remain ardently interested in that phenomenon of twentieth-century gender studies, the gaze. Anna Gaskell's photographs effect a realm of scopophilia--we look, and are uncomfortably caught looking. If her work is both seductive and alienating, unique and derivative, it is because she wants to analyze voyeuristic desire while reveling in it, to participate in its omnivorous processes of objectification while commenting on them.
Gaskell has received so much attention that it's hard to believe her recent outing was only her second solo show in New York. A series of fifteen color prints collectively titled "by proxy" (all works 1999), the exhibition echoed her 1996-97 "Wonder" series, in which a pair of adolescent girls appeared as carnal Alices in a chilly Wonderland. Similar ingredients were on display here: cool, glossy surfaces and saturated color; impressive use of cropping and close-up; hyperrealist natural settings; girls with long silky hair. But "by proxy" involves a larger group of models than the earlier show did. Varying in age from prepubescent to almost woman, they're dressed as nurses: little caps, white shirtwaist dresses, white stockings, sensible shoes. The alpine forest in which they cavort is filled with weird sunlight and carpeted with cotton-batting snow.
According to press materials, the fragmented heroine is Sally Salt from Rudolf Erich Raspe's Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1785), imagined here as Genene Jones, a pediatric nurse convicted in 1984 of murdering her charges. None of this detail was apparent from looking at the images, but the narrative frame didn't matter. Clearly some fever dream was being enacted, a sinister fantasy in which identities merged and doubled as the nymphet nurses ministered to each other. …