One of the nation’s first permanent spaces dedicated to showcasing Chicano art and culture opened on June 18. The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum in Southern California debuted with the center’s first exhibition, Cheech Collects, which weaves a story of Cheech Marin’s 40-year journey as an art collector.
Cheech Collects features works by some of the most respected Chicana/o/x artists in the world co-curated by the center’s Artistic Director, María Esther Fernández, and Todd Wingate, the Riverside Art Museum’s Director of Exhibitions and Collections. More than 40 artists are included, many of whom are pioneers, trailblazers, and rule-breakers like Carlos Almaraz, Margaret Garcia, Wayne Alaniz Healy, Judithe Hernández, Frank Romero, and Patssi Valdez.
For Marin, the exhibition is a dream come true.
“These artists channeled their creativity into bold and innovative, aesthetically complex statements,” Marin said. “Not only are these works beautiful and complex, but they also raise visibility for social justice issues, and shape our popular, political, and cultural consciousness.”
The inaugural exhibition, which runs through December 2022, features nearly 100 works from Marin’s generous gift to the Riverside Art Museum as well as from his personal collection. It includes iconic works that have toured in Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge, among other notable exhibitions, as well as some that will be on view for the first time. A second iteration of the inaugural exhibition will open in January 2023.
Like Marin himself, many of the artists featured in Cheech Collects have strong roots in the Los Angeles area, while others come from places like San Antonio and Corpus Christi, Texas. Regardless of their hometowns, many are considered game-changers in the world of Chicano art. Indeed, when the moniker “Chicano” was born some four decades ago amid the turmoil and social unrest of America’s 1960s civil rights movements, some of these artists were already emerging as advocates for change.
Patssi Valdez grew up in East Los Angeles as a multimedia artist and cofounder of the seminal Chicano artist collective called Asco (active from 1972 to 1987), which responded specifically to socioeconomic and political problems surrounding the Chicano community in the U.S, as well as the Vietnam War. Some of her work, including her stunning 1993 acrylic painting “Room on the Verge” will be featured in Cheech Collects.
The show features the work of Frank Romero, one of L.A.’s most iconic artists, who was born in East Los Angeles in 1941. He is a founding member of the Los Four art collective whose work in the 1974 exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was acclaimed as one of the first ever Chicano art shows at a mainstream museum. Guests to The Cheech will see several works including his 1996 painting “The Arrest of the Paleteros,” which illustrates “paleteros” or ice-cream vendors, being arrested in Echo Park for not having permits.
The work of another member of the Los Four art collective is also on display. That work belongs to Judithe Hernández, who was among the first Chicana artists to break through the mainstream museum barrier. The Los Angeles-based artist first gained recognition as a muralist and is now widely known for her works in pastel of archetypal, mythical female figures. The Cheech will feature her 2017 masterpiece “Juarez Quinceañera,” which depicts the atrocities of the Ciudad Juarez femicides.
Also joining the show is Wayne Alaniz Healy, a founding member of the East Los Streetscapers, one of the first groups of artists to begin the muralist movement in the 1970s. His 1991 acrylic painting “Una Tarde en Meoqui (An Afternoon in Meoqui)” will be featured in Cheech Collects. There’s also Margaret Garcia who began her career as a muralist and was involved in the murals that swept through the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The exhibition will highlight her 2000 oil painting “Janine at 39, Mother of Twins.” Two of many Marin favorites, both paintings never left his home after they returned from the nationally touring Chicano Visions exhibition.
The Cheech, as it’s affectionately called, is the result of a public-private partnership between the Riverside Art Museum, the City of Riverside, and Marin, who pulled together what is arguably the finest private collection of Chicano art.
“This collection of work not only weaves a narrative of Marin’s 40-year career as a collector but also explores its art historical significance,” said Artistic Director of The Cheech, María Esther Fernández. “This inaugural exhibition, coupled with our entire collection, represents a massive step forward in our pursuit of shaping the art world’s perceptions and understanding of Chicanx art.”
Other artists featured in this inaugural exhibition include the late Carlos Almaraz who was a leading member of the Chicano arts movement in Los Angeles in the 1970s and ’80s, producing banners for rallies in support of Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers labor union. Look for works by: Gilbert “Magú” Luján, a painter, muralist, and sculptor who was among the first U.S. artists of Mexican descent to establish an international career; Glugio “Gronk” Nicandro, a painter, printmaker, and performance artist who was also a founding member of the LA-based arts collective Asco; and Sandy Rodriguez, whose work investigates the methods and materials of painting across cultures and histories.
Brothers Einar and Jamex de la Torre, who hail from Guadalajara, Mexico, but now live and work on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, just finished installation of a 26-foot lenticular artwork that greets visitors as they enter the front door of the center. Seventy artworks by the de la Torre brothers are also featured in The Cheech’s inaugural temporary exhibition. Collidoscope: de la Torre Brothers Retro-Perspective premieres at The Cheech on opening day and after closing on January 22, 2023, it will embark on a national tour supported by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Latino.
Tickets to the Riverside Art Museum and The Cheech can be purchased at www.riversideartmuseum.org.