For an art collector whose name is on an $11 million museum, Cheech Marin is not one for formality. As we pull up chairs for conversation inside the main gallery, he tells me, “Pull up a stump, rest your tail.”
We’re talking the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture, inside the Riverside Museum that will open to the public on Saturday. Inside the newly renovated 1960s library, the museum will display a rotating selection of 550 paintings and other works that Marin has donated.
To make his point, the 75-year-old actor and comedian has been doing interviews to this day in one-and-a-half-hour blocks, four in front of me and another after. (Don’t worry, it’s for the best.)
Friendly and enthusiastic, Marin never tire of talking about art, a passion he bore during Mass in South L.A. in his Catholic childhood, which would puzzle over church art, turning its head literally and figuratively. was.
“To a young child, Mass is endless and they are talking a foreign language. On the roof, a man in a sheet is walking over the clouds. And why are they barbecuing that man in the corner?” Marin laughs as he remembers. “Two Principles of Mexican Entertainment: Laughter and Gore.”
An older cousin determined the subject for the study. Chech was tasked with learning about world art. He began his research at his local library, then moved to LACMA after hearing that he should see the paintings in person.
“I was familiar with Western art by the time I was 11. I can name the pictures, say where they fit into world history, ”says Marine.
After college at Northridge, he made a living as a potter before meeting Tommy Chong and forming a comedy duo, Stiller & Merry, in the late 1960s. I mean, Cheech and Chong.
“When I had success with Cheech & Chong, I had the money to collect the art and the celebrities to prosecute for it,” Marin says. “I bought three pieces by Jorge Yepps, Carlos Almaraz, and Frank Romero at the same time.”
He threw himself into his newfound passion the same way he did as a boy, collecting stones, baseball cards, and stamps. His hobby only intensified in the 1990s when he had a regular role on “Nash Bridge” and the money that came with it.
“I should have been in a support group, Chicano Art Collectors Anonymous,” he says.
It may be lonely, I suggest. “Yes,” he agrees, “I would have been alone there.”
Few people or institutions were seriously collecting Mexican American art. “All the masterpieces of Chicano art were still available for purchase,” marvels Marin.
Eli Broad, the billionaire collector who founded The Broad Museum, is said to have occasionally followed the trends of modern art. Did Marin follow the trend in Chicano art?
“There were no trends to follow,” Marin says. “I bought what I liked. And I had good eyesight. It came from looking at 10,000 images. The painting has to talk to me. I stand in front of a painting with a lot of knowledge.”
His mentor, Richard Duardo, an artist and printer, directed him to artists, some of them in Texas, when Marin realized that Chicano art was not limited to Southern California.
“If they weren’t mad at them that week, the painters would have taken them to other painters,” Marin says. “You meet one painter, you know 20 painters.”
We stop to rest our ramps and walk around the main gallery to see a portion of the inaugural exhibition “Cheech Collects,” which houses about 100 works by 44 painters. (“Citch Collects II” is coming out later this year, and that will still only scratch the surface of her donation.)
The painting behind him is Romero’s 1996 “The Arrest of the Palatares,” an aerial view of the LAPD’s convergence on vendors by a lakeside park.
“The city fathers wanted to clear Echo Park of prostitution and gang fighting,” Marin explains, “so they went after the Ice Cream Man. See the kids with their hands? And the cop chasing the cotton candy vendor? “
Nearby is Wayne Alniz Healy’s “Una Tarde en Meoqui” (An Afternoon in Meoqui), an acrylic of a rural barbecue.
It’s like the union of Norman Rockwell and Jackson Pollock, Marin says, explaining how Healy ends the family scene and then adds accents by squirting paint from bottles of mustard, which she leans on pantomime.
“It’s always in my kitchen, every house I live in,” Marin says of the painting. “Now it’s here.”
We take John M. Valdez’s “Getting Them Out of the Car”, a photo-realistic work done in pastels after a gang shoot. Pastels aren’t just for “flowers and trees,” Marin says.
He jokes that the Renaissance-style self-portrait by Eloy Torrez resembles “The Mona Lisa.” He remarks that the two young artists, Sandy Rodriguez and Margaret García, are “flying.” Maybe He may be anticipating trends, not following them.
I previously asked if any of the pieces he wanted had been taken away. We come to one that almost did.
Marin had seen in Houston Benito Huerta’s “Exile of Main Street,” a Cubist-style painting on black velvet of Jaurez prostitutes. “I wanted to buy it. I took a detour around the museum and when I came back, it was sold out,” says Marine, irritated.
But the painting returned to the artist’s hands, and when Huerta died, his son, who knew of Marin’s interest, approached and sold it.
“I got it last year. The one who ran away did not go away,” says the Marine with satisfaction.
Even his art will not be missed. When Riverside Art Museum officials considered the idea of a museum in the city to put together Marin’s collection, he agreed to donate it if the city would provide the facility.
Of the finished product, which has been said to be the largest permanent assemblage of Mexican American art in the United States, he says, “It is much more than my dream.”
As we say goodbye, Marin urges me: “Write nice things about the museum. You don’t need to take my name.”
Judy Baca’s mural “Hitting the Wall,” painted on a retaining wall along the 110 Freeway, is the focal point of a welcome exhibit at the Getty Center. Featuring a female runner literally bursting through a wall, the monumental piece was commissioned for the Olympics in 1984, the first year women were allowed to compete in the marathon. “I thought, ‘I can do something with this,'” Baca recalled in a Getty Talk on Sunday. Let’s consider this an all-around success.
David Allen writes three stumbling blocks on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.