“Angel Otero: Diario,” Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

We’re all influenced by everything.

As a sprawling amalgamation of experiences, epiphanies and inputs, Angel Otero’s new installation at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, “Diario,” represents humanity’s psychological landscape. The apparent chaos of the piece belies its sophistication; the sculpture’s densely layered components illustrate not only the tangible influence of its creator, who was born in Puerto Rico and divides his time between Chicago and New York, but also reveal the invisible impacts we all endure as part of a sentient, emotionally driven species.

The larger than life work conjures a map, one that charts a dynamic and complex terrain of memories, hopes, fears, failures, triumphs, love and anxiety. And while the piece almost appears menacing from a distance, those who venture in for a closer look will find it runs deeper.

Owing to Otero’s vivid use of mixed media, “Diario” inserts itself directly into the headspace of the viewer. Oil-laden scraps drape from the installation like hides arrayed on a sacrificial altar, but their meaning is anything but grotesque. The multichromatic work crackles with energy, and yet it’s the preponderance of pale colors that make the bright regions all the more authoritative as they assert their presence and demand the attention of passers-by. Perhaps these powerful realms on Otero’s map represent elements of a personality — key aspects of an individual that shape how we judge and interpret his or her actions, choices, preferences and values.

Given that one of the artist’s goals was to explore the way in which people aspire to make a mark of their existence, it seems fitting that “Diario” is rife with psychological metaphor. After all, the effect that we have on others through our thoughts and actions is often far more meaningful than any physical relics we leave behind.

The landscape of “Diario” meanders and twists with delightful nuance, but the geography boasts several nodes that almost plead for interpretation. The orange and blue swirls, for instance, at the bottom center of the piece invoke some of our most powerful and tempting sensations — wrath, lust, envy and creativity. Conversely, the green territory in the center of the installation offers an opportunity to ground ourselves amid its peaceful and nurturing calm. This might be the place people seek to become the best versions of themselves.

Meanwhile, the blue tributaries function as emotional reservoirs for the love, friendships and spiritual sustenance that brighten our existence and buoy us in trying times. The black storm cloud in the upper left quadrant taunts us with confusion, anger and uncertainty.

And — literally and figuratively — above the psychological symbolism is another dark miasma, bold and prominent across the top of the piece. Herein reside our weighty preoccupations of world problems, responsibilities and the specter of our own mortality.

The true beauty of “Diario” is not only the scope and detail of its metaphors but what lies beneath. There are numerous areas of the sculpture in which the skin has been peeled away, revealing basketry, wrought iron, glass panes and weavings. The myriad found and salvaged components are the skeleton supporting the tenderly-rendered consciousness of the artwork. Although they remain largely unseen, without their physical presence the personality of the creation would be lost.

As an artistic accomplishment, “Diario” is an impressive and grandly-executed vision. And even more significantly, it inspires everyone who sees it to think about where they come from and what they’re leaving behind.

“Diario” continues at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd., through July 19. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday – Wednesday, 10 a.m. to -9 p.m. Thursday – Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday – Sunday. For more information, 816.743.5784 or www.kemperart.org.

Matthew Thompson

Matthew Thompson is an educator, historian, and writer who has lived in Kansas since 2005. His research interests include Progressivism and the Socialist Party of America, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War. He enjoys studying visual arts to help make the world and its history accessible and exciting to others.

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