The Cheech Opens
|Chaz Bojorquez, Chino Latino, 2000. Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture|
The Building. I liked the building a lot better than I'd expected from the renderings. The two-story structure was Riverside's 1964 public library, designed by Moise, Harbach, and Hewlett, a local firm whose renown did not extend much beyond the Inland Empire. Think of the library as a road show version of Edward Durell Stone. The building has now been converted to a museum by Page & Turnbull, San Francisco specialists in historic preservation, and the very of-the-moment Kulapat Yantrasast of WHY. The architects have not attempted to make the building look brand-new. The exterior's lacy decoration retains six decades of earthquake cracks and has not been sandblasted white. The jazzy color of early renderings has been eliminated, but guess what? Cheech's signature on the facade lights up like neon. It's kept on even in the daytime.
|Sandy Rodriguez, Payasa, 1998|
Told that the building was 61,420 square feet, Marin joked that the last three digits were stoner kismet. The interior has been reconfigured to a reported 16,420 sf of exhibition space. The ground floor is for rotations of the Marin collection; the second floor is for temporary shows. Some of the paintings are shown on brick walls, a coffee house vibe that has a certain charm. (Zumthor-LACMA will hang paintings on concrete. Does anyone care about making life easier for installers?)
|Ground-floor galleries. At right are two works by Judithe Hernández, who will have an upcoming retrospective|
|Einar & James de la Torre, Gaiatlicue, 2022|
The central atrium holds the de la Torre brothers' Gaiatlicue, the two-story lenticular monolith. Commissioned for the Cheech, this is to be a permanent feature. Meanwhile the de la Torres inaugurate the second-floor space with "Collidoscope: de la Torre Brothers Retro-Perspective" (through Jan. 22, 2023), a show that will tour nationally.
My favorite part of the building is the staircase. Damaged polyester panels, rails, and lighting fixtures have been replicated in mid-century splendor.
Even rest rooms send messages about who a museum's audience is. The example here suggest a theme park's upscale restaurant—apparently a gesture to welcome first-time museum visitors.
|Installation view of Frank Romero's Arrest of the Paleteros, 1996|
|Frank Romero, Arrest of the Paleteros, 1996. The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture, Riverside|
The Collection. Marin began collecting in the mid 1980s. His collection ranges up to the present day, spanning political art, street art, portraiture, folklore, and landscape. In general he likes technically accomplished and stridently colorful objects with a clear link to Chicano life. Marin acquires multiple first-rate works by artists he likes, such as Carlos Almaraz, Chaz Bojorquez, Margaret Garcia, Gronk, Judithe Hernández, Gilbert “Magú" Luján, Sandy Rodriguez, Frank Romero, John Valadez, and Patssi Valdez. In that respect, the Cheech is the Chicano Broad, or even more so: The Cheech probably has a higher proportion of quintessential pieces than the Broad does. Eli was competing with every other gazillionaire; Cheech was ahead of the market and institutional curve (the Chicano Albert Barnes?)
|Margaret García, Janine at 39, Mother of Twins, 2000|
The art is indeed staying here, for Marin has donated about 550 pieces (out of a still-growing total of about 700 works). The donation includes almost all of the most important pieces in the first rotation, "Cheech Collects" (through June 18, 2023).
|Eloy Torrez, Portrait of Scott Rodarte and Portrait of Randy Rodarte, both 2004|
|Jacinto Guevara, Shotgun Shack, 2019|
I'd divide "Cheech Collects" into three parts. One consists of first-rate pieces by recognized artists. Another is great pieces by artists who are not so well known. Among them I would include the luminous paintings of architecture by Jacinto Guevara, a grisaille of the L.A. skyline by Roberto Gutiérrez, and the Hopper-esque nocturnes of Joe Peña. Each makes me want to see more by the artist.
|Wayne Alaniz Healy, Una Trade en Meoqui ("An Afternoon in Meoqui"),|
The First Chicano Museum. The Cheech is being billed as the first museum of Chicano art and culture. As far as I can tell, that's true, though the distinction is somewhat narrow. San Francisco's Mexican Museum (founded 1975) and Long Beach's Museum of Latin American Art (founded 1996) were originally conceived to show art made south of the Rio Grande, but both now show Chicano art as well. Chicago's National Museum of Mexican Art (est. 1982) calls itself the nation's largest Latino cultural institution.
The Cheech's only real rival is the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino, authorized by Congress in 2020 but still a long way from opening. In any case, it's on the other side of the country and not specifically focused on the Mexican-American experience. The nascent Smithsonian museum collaborated with the Cheech on the de la Torre brothers show.
The Cheech is being run as a branch of the Riverside Art Museum (which is just across the street). In this case the tail is wagging the dog. RAM never assembled much of a collection, and its exhibitions are fairly low-wattage. Right out of the gate, the Cheech has a collection and mission of national importance. It's projected that the Cheech will draw about 100,000 visitors a year, about twice that of the RAM.
|Einar and Jamex de la Torre, Poissons des Masses, 2020. Lenticular print. Private collection|
|Einar and Jamex de la Torre, Frijolera Clásica, 2010. Blown glass and mixed media. Crocker Museum of Art, Sacramento|