The new center, in Riverside, Calif., will be dedicated exclusively to showcasing Mexican-American art and culture.
By Sarah Bahr
- Published Jan. 26, 2021
It was a stifling Sunday in 1950s South Central Los Angeles, when Cheech Marin, stuck at church, let his eyes drift to the ceiling.
What he saw there would spark a lifelong love of art.
“There were painted guys in long sheets walking in the clouds” on a mural above his head, said Marin, 74, who is best known as half of the comedy team Cheech & Chong. “And then I’d look in the corner and be like, ‘Why are these guys barbecuing that other guy?’ Those two things informed my aesthetic from that point on: It had to be glorious and gory at the same time.”
In the mid-1980s, Marin, buoyed by a burgeoning film career, made the leap from merely admiring Rembrandts and Vermeers in museums to acquiring work. A third-generation Mexican-American, he focuses on Chicano artists, and has amassed one of the largest such collections in the world.
Now, his more than 700 paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures will have a permanent home in the former Riverside, Calif., public library. Plans and funding were approved last week by the City Council there for the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture and Industry, which will feature works by artists including Gilbert “Magú” Luján, Frank Romero and Carlos Almaraz.
The art museum and academic center, which is slated to open this fall, is intended to be the country’s first permanent space exclusively dedicated to showcasing Mexican-American art and culture — a standard-bearing role Marin doesn’t take lightly.
“People hear ‘Chicano art’ and think it’s a guy sleeping under a cactus or something,” Marin said. But for him, it’s about seeking out the “sabor” — Spanish for flavor — of Mexican-American culture, in works by artists born in the United States and influenced by both their Mexican cultural heritage and their upbringing with Cheerios and Uncle Sam.
Plans for the center, which will be managed by the Riverside Art Museum, have been in the works for nearly four years. The city will contribute about $1 million per year under a 25-year agreement to cover operating costs, and the Riverside Art Museum is funding the $13.3 million renovation costs for the former library building through a $9.7 million state grant and private donations.