TACOMA — Actor and comedian Richard “Cheech” Marin is set to speak at the opening ceremony of the “El Noroeste” exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum today.
Marin — known for being one half of the stoner comedic duo and cannabis company Cheech and Chong — has spent over 30 years building a collection of Chicano art. He is believed to have the largest private collection of such art in the world, with over 700 pieces.
Prior to donating art pieces to the Riverside Art Museum in Southern California to create the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture, Marin took his private collection on the road on a 12-city tour. His exhibition “Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge” was shown in major art museums across the country from 2001 to 2007 and broke attendance records.
Now, 550 art pieces from his collection are in permanent rotation at what is commonly called the Cheech Center, considered to be the only permanent space in the country that displays Chicano art.
Marin spoke with the News Tribune about Chicano art before today’s opening ceremony for “El Noroeste.”
- What made you want to collect specifically Chicano art?
I’ve been a collector of something all my life. As a little kid,whether it was baseball cards or marbles or stamps, I had a proclivity to do that. I started collecting as soon as I had enough money. I was a potter at one time, so I started collecting that kind of folk art and handmade art, and then at some point I discovered these Chicano painters. I connected with their work right away, I saw what they were doing and it meant something to me personally because of my background.
- How would you say Chicano art has changed over time?
It started out as the visual arm of the Chicano political movement. They were the sign painters, the poster makers, the backdrops for Luis Valdez and his Teatro Campesino, and any signs they carried in protests. Those were Chicano artists, and as soon as they did that, I think the artists kind of started going off into their own personal, artistic pursuits in that Chicano space, because now they saw that there was an interest in doing that.
- What sets Chicano art apart from mainstream art?
The term “Chicano” is an overarching term that kind of envelops all of the generations, whether it’s Latinx or Chicanx or whatever permutations happen on down the line. It’s all predicated on description of culture, and that’s where it’s different from every other arts art movement that has gone on. It is not based on the style.
- How has your taste in art changed over the years?
It’s evolved as I see more and more art, because every generation of artists that comes into this field has their own view of what they want to paint about or draw about or make art about. … They all have their own views, because their neighborhoods look different. … What they’re saying is, “This is what my neighborhood looks like, this is what the people in my neighborhood look like, these are the concerns that are happening to people in our neighborhoods, and these are our political views.”
- Is your personal collection of Chicano art still growing?
Actually, it’s an addiction. There’s just so many new artists coming up. It’s not like you’re still buying from people in the ’60s; you’re buying from artists that are making really vibrant art today. … If I see a wonderful piece of art or a wonderful artist is creating something new and exciting, I collect it.
- Why would you say an exhibit like “El Noroeste” is important to display in such a well-known museum such as the Tacoma Art Museum?
It’s just to show the spread of where Chicano art is, and it’s spreading more and more. … Chicanos have been spreading out for a long time, but now we get to see the visual face of it. The absence of Chicano art in museums is now changing, and there’s Chicano art in a lot of museums now.