An influential and rare permanent space dedicated to prolific Chicano art and culture –possibly the nation’s first and largest permanent collection of Mexican American Art, museum officials say – opened Saturday in Riverside, California.
The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture, or ‘The Cheech’ as it’s called, houses nearly 500 paintings, drawings, and sculptures donated from comedian, actor and art collector Cheech Marin, one half of the legendary comedy duo Cheech and Chong.
The inaugural exhibition, Cheech Collects, weaves a story of Marin’s journey as an art collector and features around 100 works.
“My heart is swelling at this point, man. This is a dream that I never dared dream, having a museum dedicated to Chicano art. It’s the very first one in the world,” Marin told NPR.
Artistic Director María Esther Fernández told USA TODAY she can’t recall another institution that has a permanent collection of Chicano art on view, although it’s difficult to be certain that The Cheech is the only permanent space or largest collection.
Fernández attributes this to the fact that Chicano art has been mostly ignored by the art world, in history departments and mainstream museums. A mission of the center is to help fill in some of the informational gaps, Fernández said.
“Chicano art to me … it speaks to a people, their American experience, and has really grown to adopt visual markers from other movements,” Fernández said.
“But it’s developed its own kind of visual language. And what’s needed because of the marginalization in the art world is more art history and more scholarly research so that we can unpack this.”
Marin said in a statement that the center is a major step forward in shining a light on Chicano art for the world to see. The third-generation Mexican American has been building his massive art collection since the 1980s. Many of the more than 40 artists included have strong roots in the Los Angeles area, similar to Marin.
“I’m so excited to share my passion with the rest of the world. There’s something in here for everyone,” Marin said.
The 61,420-square-foot building also features a multipurpose auditorium, a film screening room and an artist-in-residency center.
“We hope that this building and this collection and this participation of the community will be a beacon for everybody else around the country to finally redefine inclusion,” Marin said during a dedication ceremony June 16.
“My motto has always been that you can’t love or hate Chicano art unless you see it,” Marin said. “And now people will have a place to always see it.”
What is Chicano art?
Americans of Mexican descent popularized Chicano art – which came to be known as “the art of struggle, protest, and identity,” – in the late 1960s, according to the museum. The “El Movimiento,” or the Chicano Movement, heavily influenced artists, who were often civil rights activists, too.
“The crusade for social justice prompted many Mexican Americans, and those who identified as Chicanos, to create art that spoke of self-determination and perseverance for a population that was – and to some degree, continues to be – disenfranchised,” a museum statement said.
Artists used their works to advocate for a number of human rights’ issues: including political representation, farmworker rights and education reforms.
Rasquachismo – a concept developed by art historian Tomás Ybarra-Frausto which describes the aesthetics of Chicano art – refers to themes of artists using ordinary materials to create resourceful and innovative works.
“Rasquachismo is the celebration of “making do,” and can be seen in brightly colored houses, a shrine of plastic flowers, paintings on velvet, or a wall or fence adored with found objects, pieces of plastic, or odds and ends,” a museum statement said.
Marin said that today, Chicano art can be both political and non-political.
“It can be highly personal. But what I’ve learned over the years is that Chicano art reveals the sabor (flavor) of the community.”
Nearly 62% of the nation’s overall Hispanic population, about 37.2 million people, are Mexican immigrants or Mexican Americans, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center report.
Camille Fine is a trending visual producer on USA TODAY’s NOW team. She loves to make pizza, photograph friends and spoil her loving cat Pearl.