“The Cheech” Comes to TRAC 2019 – By Joseph Bravo
Cheech Marin is one of the most iconic representatives of Chicano popular culture. A renowned comedian and actor as well as a member of the celebrated duo Cheech and Chong, his entertainment career spans decades and his fans number in the millions. His irreverent but benign humor defined not only a generation but endearingly conveyed the cultural priorities of his barrio and has afforded him a platform to bring Chicano perspectives into the American mainstream. For Cheech, the Chicano experience is an indispensable aspect of the American experience and the riches of its cultural optics enhances and emboldens the tapestry of American culture.
Cheech’s celebrity has offered him the opportunity to be acquainted with the leading lights of that culture from the worlds of cinema and music to literature and fine art. It was perhaps among the fine artist of America’s barrios where the comedian found his closet kindred spirits and where he has been welcomed as both an inspiration and a champion. For over four decades he has been visiting artists’ studios, collecting their work, loaning it for exhibitions and been a tirelessly ardent activist for the Chicano art movement. He has also been its most generous patron. Only a handful of Chicano art scholars possess a connoisseurship and knowledge of its history equivalent to his own and each has made their obligatory pilgrimage through his extraordinary collection. It represents a cultural treasure trove and a uniquely historic document of the emergence of Chicano visual history.
The Cheech Marin collection made its public debut in 2001 when the San Antonio Museum of Art mounted Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge. Curated by René Yañez, this exhibit toured the nation and introduced audiences to the spectacular talent as well as the depth and breadth of Chicano aesthetic priorities. The exhibition demonstrated that Chicano art was not so much a style as a cultural optic that reflected the Mexican-American experience. The exhibit inspired yet another generation of young artists and helped them realize that their voices belonged in museums and that they too could aspire to a broader cultural significance that empowered both the artists and their communities.
After decades of development and years of negotiation, Cheech’s collection has finally found an institutional home where it will be preserved for posterity and shared with future generations from all communities and all walks of life. Opening in 2020, The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture, and Industry of the Riverside Art Museum or, as it is affectionately nicknamed, “The Cheech” will provide validation and inspiration to a diverse community and will offer audiences an unprecedented experience of the cultural nuances and brilliance of Chicano artistic expression. $9.7 million has been recently provided by the California legislature in order to help establish “The Cheech.”
While Chicano art spans the stylistic gambit from abstractionism to conceptualism, Chicano artists have been particularly attached to narrative and have tended to paint imagery which reflected their lived experience. Unlike most of their Anglo counterparts, the Chicano artists have preserved the figurative tradition even when it fell out of favor in university art departments and contemporary art galleries. They stubbornly hung on to the expressive realist tradition because it served their interest in advancing and espousing their cultural narratives of affirmation and resistance. It has been an unapologetic Arte Popular, often low brow or transgressive, oft times confrontationally political or delightfully domestic, alternating seamlessly between the pious and profane. Chicano art hasn’t felt the need to pander to the aesthetic priorities of the elite fine art establishment. Hence, Chicano art has tended to avoid pretense and retain its powerful authenticity. Being off the radar of the Bluechip Contemporary Art mavens meant that there was little temptation for Chicano artists to sell out their culture and hence their commercial handicap was also their greatest strength. Aesthetic integrity is a luxury the Chicano artist can afford.
Join us at TRAC 2019 as we are afforded the privilege of hearing from one of the most important art connoisseurs of his generation when Cheech Marin describes his experience as a creative, a collector, an advocate and a philanthropist. It promises to be an illuminating and, of course, humorous experience.