Wonder and Whimsy: Anna Gaskell

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Anna Gaskell (b. 1969, Des Moines, Iowa)

Installation view of three of Anna Gaskell’s photographs next to a Louise Bourgeois sculpture

Installation view of three of Anna Gaskell’s photographs next to a Louise Bourgeois sculpture; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Anna Gaskell studied at Bennington College for two years before attending the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received a BFA in 1992, and later earned an MFA from Yale University in 1995. Gaskell is renowned for her work referencing mythology, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Her carefully staged photographs contain ambiguous narratives with no clear beginning or end. Viewers may detect a sense of anxiety, pleasure, or mischief in her works. Gaskell’s background in filmmaking and performance are evident in her use of dramatic lighting, awkward body distortions, and severe camera angles.

The Artist’s Voice:

“Trying to combine fiction, fact and my own personal mishmash of life into something new is how I make my work. . . . I try to insert a degree of mystery that ensures that the dots may not connect in the same way every time.”—Anna Gaskell, in NMWA’s See for Yourself card

“My muses have always been characters from novels or films or iconic figures from the past. I was drawn to these people for different reasons—because of their wisdom, intelligence, sense of humor or sense of adventure. . . . Over time I gathered them for inspiration, sometimes conjuring them back to life again for companionship.”—Anna Gaskell, letter in This Is Tomorrow

Anna Gaskell, untitled #26 (override), 1997; Chromogenic print print mounted on Plexiglas, 15 1/4 x 23 5/8 in.; NMWA, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Anna Gaskell

Revival Highlight:

Five chromogenic prints, drawn from her series “override” (1997) and “wonder” (1996-97), as well as untitled #104 (A Short Story of Happenstance) (2003) are on view in Revival. In “override,” the scenarios are drawn from Gaskell’s own imagination and portray several manifestations of Alice. In untitled #26 (override), the model pictured in her blue pinafore and yellow cotton dress appears to plot a revenge or escape, seeming both innocent and spiteful, a duality that mirrors the emotional confusion often experienced by adolescents.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.