Learning that Cheech Marin is the largest collector of Chicano art in the world may be surprising to many people. After all, reconciling the stoner comedian best known for Cheech and Chong movies of the seventies with the rarefied world of the art collection is no easy feat.
However, it turns out that Cheech Marin not only has been collecting Chicano art for over 40 years, but there is also now a museum bearing his name in Riverside, California, The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture. 500 artworks have been donated to the museum affectionately known as “The Cheech,” which is now open to the public.
What Is Chicano Art?
The Chicano art movement began in the late sixties and early seventies, and generally refers to artists of Mexican-American Heritage. Growing up alongside the Chicano movement, these artists wanted to create their own artistic identities, separate from other American (predominantly white) artists and what was generally accepted as European-influenced art.
Many Chicano artists have been influenced by Mexican art, both contemporary and ancient, while others draw inspiration from their local neighborhoods and daily life.
What To Expect At The Cheech
Visitors to The Cheech are immediately greeted by a brightly colored, 26-foot-tall art installation called Gaiatlicue, created specifically for this space by Einar and Jamex de la Torre. Paying homage to the ancient, female deity, Coatlicue, the brothers have made her into a sort of wonder woman or transformer. Behind her is a map of East Los Angeles to Riverside with freeways covered in flowers. Three round ottomans placed in front of the piece are perfect for sitting and reflecting on this massive and intricately detailed artwork.
The galleries surrounding the lobby are filled with 94 artworks created by 44 artists. The styles and materials used ranged widely. Some artists have opted for traditional canvases covered in watercolors and oils, while others have opted for airbrushing and painting on velvet and textiles. Many of the artists were trained in traditional art schools and a few are self-taught. The Cheech does an excellent job of sharing the depth and breadth of Chicano art as it has evolved over the past four decades.
Placed next to many of the artworks are large QR codes. Scan the code and viewers are taken to a short video of Cheech Marin talking about the specific artist and how he came to acquire the piece. His joy of collecting and supporting these artists comes through as does his deep knowledge of the genre. Unfortunately, for the artworks without the QR code, very little information is provided. Hopefully, this will be added over time.
Tips For Visiting The Cheech
Allow one to two hours to see all the artwork at The Cheech. Also feel free to bring kids of any age, it is a family-friendly space. This is not your classic art museum with an expectation of hushed voices.
Free parking is available behind the museum, but if that is full, metered street parking is usually pretty easy to find on surrounding streets.
If you have more time, explore the nearby downtown Riverside, which features a pedestrian mall with restaurants, cafés, and shops. Across the street from The Cheech is the famous Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, a historic spot that has hosted presidents and celebrities for over one hundred years.
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