The "wonderful midcentury structure" he'd been offered to house his Chicano art collection was 61,420 square feet. “Four-twenty, you say?” he recalls five years later. “Thank you, Lord! It felt like this was meant to happen.”
The Cheech, the Riverside Art Museum's Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture, opened June 18 in Riverside, California's historic downtown library. It contains works by Frank Romero, Judithe Hernández, Gilbert "Mag" Luján, and Patssi Valdez. This style of American art is long-lasting and widespread, as important as the Hudson Valley or Ash Can.
After exhibiting some of his collection at the Riverside Art Museum in 2017, community officials approached Marin about constructing the center. Marin, who was drawn to Riverside's Latino majority, has donated 500 of his 700-piece collection to the institution, whose new structure underwent a $13.3 million state-funded refit. The Cheech and Riverside Art Museum are each $15.95.
Zach Horowitz, the former CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, created the Latino podcast startup Pitaya and serves on the board of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. Cheech's devotion for an underappreciated art form has always fascinated him. Nobody has championed it more nationally and internationally. He's spent decades ensuring it's seen and understood."
With the upcoming launch of The Cheech (the celebrity recommended the namesake christening as a riposte to L.A.'s The Broad), Marin finds himself in the role of canonizing institution, with the concomitant complications. “There's nothing more expensive than a free gift,” he jokes, but also says he got sticker shock when he found he had to pay for appraisals on his donated works. As a celebrity collector, he's noticed that some artists exploit his purchases by turning them into series. “They do that as soon as you acquire,” he observes, tenderly. “‘Great, thanks, guys!’ “
The museum and its teaching component (which will include a filmmaking school taught by Robert Rodriguez) will use Marin's unique collection to investigate fundamental problems, such as the split between Chicanos and the (usually younger) Latino generation. Curator Mara Esther Fernández explains, "We're weaving stories about the collection." "We're looking at how the pieces relate thematically, politically, artistically, intellectually, visually, art-historically." The Cheech will feature the late painter Carlos Almaraz, subject of the 2020 Netflix documentary Playing With Fire, and Glugio "Gronk" Nicandro, a member of the Dada-influenced East L.A. collective Asco.
Marin's Pacific Palisades home, which he lives with classical pianist Natasha Rubin, is a pilgrimage destination for art collectors like Steve Martin. His acquisitions rotate wall-to-wall.
For now, his favorite topic is art show. Even with a large structure, the museum plans to cycle through Marin's collection in five years. “We want people to turn every corner and there’s some knockout piece with its own [dedicated] wall,” he says, his voice rising in passion. “We’re not crowding anything. Everyone's due."