Chicano Art’s Game-Changing ‘The Cheech’ Opens at Riverside

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — As a child, Cheech Marin loved to collect items — baseball cards, stamps, marbles — and organize them obsessively.

“I have a craze for coding them and putting them into some sort of collection or whole installation,” said Marin, 75, who is best known as the bearded Chicano, the classic Stowe. half of the comedy duo, Cheech & Chong.

In the 1980s, fueled by a steady stream of film and television productions, Marin’s natural inclination to collect was at its fullest when he fell in love with the work of Los Angeles Chicano artists such as John Valladz, George Yepes and Percy Valdez.

Their work, which blends Mexican and American influences and “passes a message from the front,” feels illuminating, like “listening to the Beatles for the first time,” says Marin, who is in South Los Angeles. A third-generation Mexican-American family grew up in Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

Since then, Marin has collected more than 700 paintings, drawings, sculptures and mixed media works by Chicano artists, including Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero and Judith HernandezIn the art world, Marin’s treasure trove of Chicano art is considered the largest such collection in the world.

Now, Marin’s collectibles are in Cheech Marin Chicano Arts and Cultural Center (known as “Cheech”) is located in Riverside, California, a mostly Latin American city of approximately 330,000 people, approximately 55 miles east of Los Angeles, in the vast Inland Empire region of Southern California.

Housed in the former Riverside Public Library, the center may be the first museum in the United States dedicated to Chicano art and culture. Marin hopes the project, a public-private partnership backed by substantial municipal investment, will spark a renaissance in Chicano art in the Inland Empire, once the cradle of California’s citrus production and one of the fastest-growing and racially diverse regions in the United States. one.

Marin was in high spirits during his latest rehearsal against Cheech before opening day on June 18. He pauses to admire the masterful brushwork in Romero’s “The Arrest of Paletros” and the colourful “cannonballs” in Almaraz’s disturbingly sublime “Sunset Crash.”

“Kiki’s story was a serendipitous opportunity,” said Todd Wingate, curator of exhibitions and collections at the Riverside Museum of Art.

In 2017, Wingate and former Riverside City manager John Russo pitched Marin the idea of ​​a museum based on his collection. At the time, the city was looking for a new tenant for its iconic public library building, a two-story pale yellow modernist building in the city’s historic core. Touring exhibition of Marin’s works on paper, “Papel Chicano Dos”, Recently, the Riverside Art Gallery has attracted record crowds. In exchange for Marin donating his collection to the Riverside Museum of Art, the city will cover the cost of housing it in the old library building.

“It’s not convincing,” Wingate said. “I think Cheech is just starting to think about where his collection belongs.”

“If you think about it, with a collection of the size and caliber of Cheech’s collection, there isn’t much room for the whole collection,” he added. “A lot of it is just stored in warehouses.”

Under a 25-year partnership agreement, the Riverside Museum of Art will manage Cheech, and the city will contribute about $1 million a year to cover operating costs.

The Riverside Museum of Art funded approximately $13 million in renovations to the library building, primarily through $9.7 million in state grants and private donations. The center expects to generate $3 million in admissions revenue during its first decade of operation.

Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson, who took office after the Cheech partnership was finalized, said she had received no pushback about the investment. (One notable lob came from a local Republican state legislature candidate, who called it “The Stoner Art Museum.” Twitter).

Mayor Dawson believes Cheech will appeal to people of all backgrounds, including international tourists. “I recently saw an article about it in the Japanese art news,” she said. “If you’re from Southern California, you’ve got to experience Chicano culture, right? But it’s also fun for people from the rest of the world.”

“All parties involved want Cheech to be self-sustaining,” said Drew Oberjuerge, executive director of the Riverside Museum of Art, who expects the bulk of its revenue to come from grants, fundraising, membership sales, admission store sales and facility rentals.

A persistent challenge for nonprofit arts organizations in the Inland Empire is the lack of public arts funding and philanthropy in the region, Oberjuerge said. State funding disproportionately benefits coastal communities and major urban centers such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, she said. a report Nonprofits that discovered the Inland Empire received $25.55 per capita in donor support, compared with the state’s average of $262.99.

To raise the initial $3 million investment needed to launch the project, Riverside Art Museum relied on volunteers and unified organization, A local collective of Latino-focused community organizations. Their events have spawned multiple Chicano-themed fundraisers, including the “Pachuco Ball,” a concert by Los Lobos (an old friend of Marin) in downtown Riverside, and an upcoming one at the local convention center. “Chicano Gala”.Dozens of Riversiders participated in a five-year payment plan, donating $5,000, the minimum donation to earn a spot on the center’s founders wall, say Ophelia Valdez-Yager, A retired Riverside School board member who ran the original campaign.

Marin’s ambitions for Cheech are just a few degrees away from world domination, including developing a film program led by film directors Robert Rodriguez, Marin made several films with him. Marin said it will train independent filmmakers on the principles of low-budget filmmaking.

María Esther Fernández, Cheech’s first artistic director and former chief curator and associate curator of the Triton Art Museum in Santa Clara, California, said Cheech will also position itself as a ” Vibrant Academic Center”.

“We’re actually in the early stages of establishing the center as an education and research center, a place that will generate research into Chicanx art and support that scholarship as well as emerging museum professionals,” Fernandez said. The aim is to help Two curatorial and conservation research fellowships to increase Latino representation in museums and archives will be hosted at the center.

Both Marin and Fernández want to position Cheech as a venue for an “uncontested conversation” around identity, representation, neutral terms, and the mother of all questions: what exactly is Chicano art?

“Is it a style?” Marin said. “Do you have to be vaccinated correctly to make Chicano art? Does your parent have to be Mexican, or just one?”

“I want to have that kind of conversation,” he added.

Fernandez said the center’s fundamental mission is to showcase art that other museums don’t have. According to a 2019 Williams College study, only 2.8 percent of artists in major U.S. museum collections are Hispanic or Latino.

There are still many mid- and late-career Chicano artists who should have solo shows and retrospectives now, she said, noting that Cheech’s first major retrospective is scheduled for 2024, with artist Judithe Hernández.

“We show this work every day. We don’t roll it out every five years,” Fernandez said.

Marin, who as a child slept in the scent of the citrus groves of the San Fernando Valley, now seems to have a blast on the Inland Empire. He wants to convert some of the area’s historic citrus packing plants into art studios, and has hinted at a desire to build a second museum dedicated to low-speed cyclists (where car culture flourished in the Inland Empire), which Marin sees as A unique product of Chicano culture.

“Riverside has a real opportunity to become one of the most important arts centers in the United States and the world,” Marin said.

As a Riverside native, hearing this all makes my head spin.After all, this is part of California Joan Didion Famously dismissed as a backwater without culture, the local historical society celebrates the owner of the orange orchard here, not the fruit harvester like my parents. Chicano culture has been around for generations but has never been in our museum.

During our visit, the center’s two inaugural exhibitions were still undergoing installations, a survey exhibition called “Cheech Collects,” and the first temporary exhibition, “Collidoscope,” a mid-career retrospective for the artist’s fraternal team. Einar and Jamex de la Torreproduced in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of Latin America.

Cheech’s exhibit is a 26-foot-tall lens installation in the lobby, commissioned by the brothers de la Torre.Using raster printing technology, which converts 2D prints into stereoscopic images, this piece projects a burly animated image Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess of the earth, he morphs into a Transformer-like machine made from a low-riding Chevy Impala. From a distance, it looks like moving stained glass.

“Just when you think you have a bead, you go a little to the left and it changes. It’s amazing,” Marin said, pointing to one of the many Easter eggs hidden on the display board— —A map of the Inland Empire stretching from East Los Angeles (referenced from Marin’s Born in East Los Angeles (1987)), east to Windmill Farm in the Coachella Desert.

In the middle of the map is Riverside. “This is the center of the universe right now,” Marin said with a smile.

Cheech Marin Chicano Arts and Cultural Center

Opening June 18, 3581 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, Calif., (951)-684-7111; riverside art

Patricia Escárcega is a journalist in Los Angeles.

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