Growing up, Cheech Marin was always a collector.
It started with murmurs. Later it was baseball cards, then finally postage stamps. Now, at 75, he has collected enough art to fill an entire museum.
“I’ve been collecting things since I was a kid,” says Marin, who is perhaps best known as one half of stoner comic duo Cheech and Chong. “I’ve always had some kind of collection going on.”
Marin bought his first artworks in the mid-1980s with money earned from his success in comedy and box office hits like Up in Smoke and Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie. He began collecting Chicano-inspired Art Deco and Art Nouveau pieces in “a then-underappreciated little thing.” It was around the time his Art Nouveau collection was growing in size — and value — that Marin says he discovered artworks by Chicano painters and immediately recognized their artistic styles.
Thirty-seven years later, Marin continues to collect primarily from Chicano artists and has created what many consider to be the largest private collection of Chicano art in the world.
More than 550 paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs from Marin’s personal collection will be in constant rotation at the Riverside Art Museum’s Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture, beginning with an inaugural exhibition of 100 pieces beginning June 18.
Nicknamed “The Cheech,” the 61,420-square-foot, two-story art museum and education center is located in the former downtown Riverside Public Library and features works by artists Chaz Bojorquez, Judithe Hernández, Frank Romero, and Patssi Valdez, among others.
The museum is a first, not just for Marin but for the nation. It is considered the only permanent art space exclusively showcasing Chicano and Mexican-American art in the country.
“You don’t have to be a Chicano to love and appreciate this work,” says Marin. “Just as I don’t have to be French to appreciate Impressionism, or German to understand Expressionism. We recognize it as part of the conversation in art history. And now we’re more focused than ever on this conversation.”
The center has been in existence for five years and is maintained and managed by the Riverside Art Museum. The City of Riverside will fund $1 million annually to cover operating costs under a 25-year contract. The cost of renovating the former library was approximately $13.3 million, subsidized by government grants and private donors.
Despite a 4-0 City Council vote in January, some councilors were hesitant about the facility’s funding plan. Councilman Chuck Conder called the city’s 25-year financial commitment to the museum a “betrayal” of the city’s taxpayers, according to Press-Enterprise. In his criticism, Conder cited the city’s financial challenges, including a costly 2020 court decision that could end up costing Riverside as much as $32 million a year.
Two other council members, Andy Melendrez and Ronaldo Fierro, abstained citing conflicts of interest. Both own property within 500 feet of the museum.
The Cheech is expected to bring in an estimated $3 million in annual revenue for the city, and museum staff anticipate around 100,000 visitors a year.
Riverside, a fast-growing city 60 miles east of Los Angeles where more than half the population identifies as Chicano, is the sixth-most populous Hispanic/Latino county in the United States — and a perfect fit for Cheech, Marin said.
“This is a new level of cultural awareness by the people who actually live here that hasn’t been done before,” says Marin, who grew up in South LA. “This city was made for that.”
Riverside city officials eventually agreed. In 2017, Marin’s touring collection became “Paper Chicano Dos: Works on Paper From the Collection of Cheech Marin,” visited the Riverside Art Museum.
The exhibition drew record-breaking visitor numbers to the museum. City officials who visited the exhibit told museum staff they were overwhelmed by the line of visitors outside, says Esther Fernandez, the Cheech’s artistic director.
“It was obvious that something was being encouraged in the community. It spoke to a need,” says Fernandez. “So we said we have to do this. We need to talk to Cheech. We have to find a way that we can have this kind of show.”
In addition to the 100 artworks originally on display at the Cheech, the remainder of Marin’s personal collection is housed in a depot at the museum or offered on loan to other institutions. Marin’s art collection has embarked on more than 50 museum tours across the country and around the world, but Cheech will be their first permanent home.
The Cheech will also host temporary exhibitions on its upper level, beginning with Collidoscope: de la Torre Brothers Retro-Perspective, a 70-part exhibition highlighting the Baroque-style artistic collaboration between brothers and artists Einar and Jamex de la Torre ; it runs until January. The most outstanding piece is a 26-foot lenticular sculpture of an Aztec goddess that towers over visitors the moment they enter the Cheech.
Fernandez described the new museum’s staff as “overwhelmingly emotional” as they unpacked each piece from the collection as it came out of Marin’s Pacific Palisades home.
“We received the collection over three or four days, and it was like the holidays, like Christmas morning,” Fernandez said. “We opened gift for gift and [were] touched.”
Much of the artwork that arrives at the Cheech comes straight off the walls of Marin’s home. Wayne Alaniz Healy’s “Una Tarde en Meoqui” (“An Afternoon in Meoqui”) is his favorite, he says: a colorful 32-inch painting he once described as “a backyard grill, but it’s Norman Rockwell with jalapeños.” It has adorned every dining room of every home he has ever lived in, but like the rest of his art collection, he says, it never really belonged to him.
“With everyone [tour] Stopping, I look at all the crowds that were coming out — crowds that some cities didn’t even know they had — and at every stop I felt the collection leave my hands,” said Marin. “It wasn’t just mine. It was mine, but it wasn’t exclusively mine anymore. It belonged to the people who saw it and whose story it was.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-06-15/always-a-collector-cheech-marin-brings-his-art-to-riverside Riverside welcomes Cheech Marin’s Chicano art collection