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March 30 - May 1, 2009 at El Camino College Art Gallery, South Bay
and April 11 - May 16, 2009 Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica

by Shirle Gottlieb

There are as many definitions of "art" as there are expressions of it. If art is defined as a visual philosophy of life or a search for meaning, Terry Braunstein creates it. Whether expressed as a poignant view of human behavior, a nostalgic perception of things past, an honest look at life and loss, the wisdom learned from collective experience, desperate longing for love and desire, or anxious hope for the future, Braunstein's art explores it all.

Working in a variety of media that includes altered photography, photomontage, book art, sculpture, gigantic public art works, gallery installations, and digital manipulation, she creates work that stimulates the mind and the heart on myriad levels.

In essence, Braunstein is an avid collector who is constantly acquiring images from everywhere imaginable--be it old books, magazines, encyclopedias, libraries, newspapers, flea-markets, cast-offs, etc. Never knowing when or where she will use something from her vast repository, she methodically files each item away until her vivid imagination sparks her creative spirit. Then out it comes.

By placing photographs of people in unlikely landscapes, Braunstein produces surreal compositions with visceral meaning that probes, disturbs, and is razor sharp.  In the "Station Identification" exhibition, visitors to El Camino College have the opportunity to see a cross-section of her output from 1982 to the present. Like "Passages" (the ground-breaking psychological study that Gail Sheehy wrote in the 1970s), Braunstein's work depicts the difficult challenges of adult contemporary life--not with words, but through visual imagery. In one series after another, she marks the arduous journey that everyone takes. The “guides” are iconic figures placed in metaphoric "stations" along the way in scenes that are so personal, yet universal, that they touch a nerve.

“Alone” from “Station Identifica-
tion,” 2008, mixed media book.

“Scarecrow” from “Station Identi-fication,”
2008,mixed media book.

"What Beetle Is This?”

In her 1986 photomontage "Nuclear Summer," for example, an artist stands at her easel calmly painting, while surrounded by a roiling sea of fire. Overhead a jet-liner crashes through black  clouds as a moon hovers benignly on the horizon. In "Empty Nest" (1987), a Cibachrome photograph depicts a lonely housewife as she methodically sweeps the desert floor--which extends as far as the eye can see.

In addition to six photographic series, figures from Braunstein's "In Vogue" installation are on display. Commissioned by LACMA in 1996 for its "Windows on Wilshire" series in the historic May Company building, "In Vogue" literally stopped traffic. Car passengers and pedestrians alike were captivated by the artist's larger-than-life cut-outs of Michelangelo's "David" and Botticelli's "Venus."  Symbols of male perfection and feminine pulchritude respectively, they were oogled by contemporary shoppers who strolled by dressed in motley, mainstream attire.

Also on view are several show-stopping art books that take the form of three-dimensional sculptures. Based on Braunstein's personal experience, they include: "A Boy in the Mountains," which alludes to her son's lengthy travels through the Himalayas; "Meta+Morphe," an account of her ongoing journey with breast cancer; and "Shot on the Spot," inspired by one of Judith Hoffberg's last projects, "Jewish Women Artists."

One entire wall is lined with photographs that refer to the exhibit's underlying theme. Metaphorically, "Station Identification" suggests that people in contemporary culture go through life on "remote control." Unaware and oblivious, we must look back to see where we've been, then ahead to see what's coming, before we can identify with who/what/where we are.

Concurrently on view across town is Braunstein's fifth solo show at Craig Krull Gallery. Called "Time Bound," this multi-media installation covers eight feet of space divided into eight soul-searching narratives. Reminiscent of some Lilliputian dream world, "Time Bound" is composed of fragile paper cutouts, thin wire, and dollhouse furniture, all mounted upright on white paper and seemingly frozen in space.

In scene after scene, some miniature "Everyman" and/or "Everywoman" is going through the mid-life angst of facing unfulfilled dreams--or looking back at youthful goals that were never attained. Each visual narration can be interpreted as a poetic metaphor or  a haunting allegory. A middle-aged man with one foot in a trashcan  stares at a globe placed beyond his reach. An older woman slumps in a child's wagon as red balloons float past her window. Two melancholy widows dance together as birds fly out of a guilded cage.

Also on display are several smaller installations that extol the power of music: "Anniversary Waltz" depicts a couple dancing through life; and "Reminiscence" features a violinist serenading a doll's sweet face surrounded by red roses.

“Time Bound,” 2009, installation, paper, wire, dollhouse furniture.