cards, stamps, marbles — and then organizing them obsessively.
“I had a mania for codifying them and putting them in some kind of collection or
whole set,” said Marin, 75, who is best known as the mustachioed, Chicano half of
the classic stoner-comedy duo, Cheech & Chong.
In the 1980s, buoyed by steady film and TV work, Marin’s natural inclination toward
collecting found its fullest expression when he fell in love with the works of Los
Angeles-based Chicano artists like John Valadez, George Yepes and Patssi Valdez.
Their works, which synthesized Mexican and American influences and “delivered
news from the front,” felt revelatory, like “listening to the Beatles for the first time,”
said Marin, who grew up in a third-generation Mexican American family in South
Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.
Since then, Marin has amassed a collection of more than 700 paintings, drawings,
sculptures and mixed-media works by Chicano artists, including major works by
Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero and Judithe Hernández. In art-world circles, Marin’s
trove of Chicano art is believed to be the largest such collection in the world.
Now, Marin’s collection has taken permanent residence at the Cheech Marin Center
for Chicano Art and Culture (known as “the Cheech”) in Riverside, Calif., a majority-
Latino city of roughly 330,000 people, about 55 miles east of Los Angeles in Southern California’s vast Inland Empire region.
The center, housed in the former Riverside public library, is possibly the first
museum in the United States entirely devoted to showcasing Chicano art and
culture. Marin hopes the project, a public-private partnership girded by significant
municipal investment, will inspire a sort of Chicano art renaissance in the Inland
Empire, once the cradle of California’s citrus production, and one of the nation’s
fastest-growing and racially diverse regions.
On a recent walk-through of the Cheech ahead of opening day, June 18, Marin was in
high spirits. He stopped to admire the masterful brushwork in Romero’s “The
Arrest of the Paleteros” and the “cannonball” of color in Almaraz’s unnervingly
sublime “Sunset Crash.”
“The story of the Cheech is one of serendipity,” said Todd Wingate, curator of
exhibitions and collections at the Riverside Art Museum. In 2017, Wingate and the former Riverside city manager John Russo pitched Marin the idea of founding a museum based on his collection. At the time, the city was looking for a new tenant for its landmark public library building, a two-story, buffcolored modernist edifice in the city’s historical core. Marin’s traveling exhibition of works on paper, “Papel Chicano Dos,” had recently drawn record crowds to the Riverside Art Museum. In exchange for Marin’s donation of his collection to the Riverside Art Museum, the city would cover the costs of housing it in the old library building.
“It didn’t take convincing,” Wingate said. “I think Cheech was just starting to think
about where his collection belongs.”