Museum officials say that an influential and rare permanent space dedicated to prolific Chicano art and culture — possibly the country’s first and largest permanent collection of Mexican-American art opened Saturday in Riverside, California.

The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture, or ‘The Cheech’ as ​​it is called, is home to nearly 500 paintings, drawings, and sculptures donated by 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 showcases approximately 100 works.

“My heart is swelling right now, man. This is a dream I could never have dreamed of, with a museum dedicated to Chicano art. It’s the very first in the world,” Marin told NPR.

Artistic director María Esther Fernández told USA TODAY she can’t remember any other institution with a permanent collection of Chicano art. However, it’s hard to be sure whether The Cheech is the only permanent space or the largest collection.

Chicano art

Fernández attributes this to the fact that Chicano art has been largely ignored by the art world, in history departments and mainstream museums. The center’s mission is to help fill some of the informational gaps, Fernández said.

“Chicano art to me…it speaks to a people, their American experience, and has grown to take on visual markers from other movements,” Fernández said.

“But it’s developed its kind of imagery. And what’s needed because of the marginalization in the art world is more art history and more scientific research so we can unpack this.”

Marin said in a statement that the center is a big step forward in bringing Chicano art to the world. The third-generation Mexican-American has been building up his huge art collection since the 1980s. More than 40 recorded artists have strong roots in the Los Angeles area, similar to Marin.

“I am so excited to share my passion with the rest of the world. There’s something for everyone here,” Marin said.

The 61,420-square-foot building also features a multi-purpose auditorium, screening room, and artist-in-residency center.

“We hope this building and this collection and this community participation will be a beacon for everyone across the country to redefine inclusion finally,” Marin said at a dedication ceremony on 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 always to 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” — according to the museum in the late 1960s. The ‘El Movimiento’ or Chicano movement greatly influenced artists, who were often civil rights activists as well.

“The social justice crusade led 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 extent still is — disenfranchised,” a museum statement said. Said.

Artists used their works to advocate for several human rights issues, including political representation, farmers’ rights, and educational reform.

Rasquachismo – a concept developed by art historian Tomás Ybarra-Frausto that describes the aesthetics of Chicano art – refers to themes of artists using ordinary materials to create imaginative and innovative works.

“Rasquachismo is the celebration of ‘making make’ and can be seen in brightly colored houses, a shrine of plastic flowers, paintings on velvet, or a wall or fence adorned with found objects, bits of plastic, or knick-knacks,” said one museum statement.

Marin said Chicano art today can be both political and non-political.

“It can be very personal. But I’ve learned over the years that Chicano art reveals the sabor (taste) of the community.”

Nearly 62% of the country’s total 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 making pizza, photographing friends, and spoiling her loving cat, Pearl.


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