Cheech Marin’s Chicano art pays a visit to Manhattan Beach
From One Backyard to Another
Artwork from the collection of Cheech Marin goes on view Wednesday in Manhattan Beach
by Bondo “Little Chihuahua” Wyszpolski
Next year, with nearly 8.5 million in seed money from the Getty, galleries and museums across the Southland will be hosting exhibitions large and small that focus on Latin American and Latino art. It’s a big ticket follow-up to the city-wide Pacific Standard Time series that took place in 2011.
And who’s got the jump on them? Homeira Goldstein and Time4Art. For quite a while now, Goldstein has been in touch with Cheech Marin, who has a large and it seems comprehensive collection of Chicano art, which he started to amass in the mid-1980s. Actually, he told me over the phone that he started collecting around the time of Michelangelo, a joke, obviously, at which I failed to laugh and merely frowned because the connection was poor on this end and I wasn’t sure I heard him right. Oh, well. My one chance to have a personal joke from Cheech of the famous comedy duo Cheech and Chong, and I blew it.
Anyway, it’s pretty rare, I mean really, really rare, for the South Bay to host an art show devoted exclusively to some fairly accomplished Mexican-American artists. Don’t we usually have to drive to Boyle Heights (or maybe to MoLAA in Long Beach) for something this good?
“We are hoping that this show gets the proper attention,” Goldstein says, “because my goal is really to promote Chicano art. I think they deserve it; they are part of our backyard and they are very much part of L.A. culture. And now that L.A. is becoming the art center of the world I think we are obligated to do this.”
Insisting to be heard
Perhaps until the 1960s or early ‘70s it was easy for the white communities to ignore or dismiss Chicano art. In 1971, four young artists (Harry Gamboa, Jr., Willie Herrón, Gronk, and Patssi Valdez) under the moniker ASCO (“Nausea” in English) purposely drew attention to themselves and their concerns through various guerrilla or street-theater tactics, such as tagging a wall at LACMA. A questionable move, surely, but one that eventually landed them in the history books. Along the way, a lot of people, Chicano and otherwise, took notice.
I don’t know the precise definitions of Chicano art, although, on the one hand, I find similarities with the big, bright, and bold manner of expression we find in the Mexican muralists of 50, 60 years ago, especially that triumvirate of Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco, and on the other hand that mix of tattoo art and graffiti that reminds me of José Guadalupe Posada from over a century ago. But this would be limiting the field, I’m sure, and fails to mention heritage, identity politics and civil rights. Maybe you can corner Cheech at the opening and get it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. After all, he’s got some 700 pieces in his personal collection, and anyone living in his own museum is bound to have some thoughts on what ties it all together.
Goldstein’s own voyage into the land of Chicano art has been an interesting one, and it’s clearly not the sort of art she’s been gravitating to all these years. If you know Homeira, you know that her preference leans towards contemporary, abstract art, much of it sculptural, and most Chicano art tends to stay close to the figurative.
Goldstein and Cheech Marin first met at someone’s posh house in Malibu, and they discovered a mutual interest in cooking. So they challenged one another to a cook-off, in layman’s terms, and ate first at the Goldstein’s home and then at the Marin residence. It was while she was at Cheech’s house in Pacific Palisades that… Here, I’ll let her tell it:
“He showed me his collection,” Goldstein says, “and that’s when I got the idea that I really wanted to do an exhibition of Chicano art. I really liked some of his pieces very much.” A year went by, they met again, and then they met up last year.
“I said, Cheech, I really want to do an exhibition of Chicano art. He said, Let’s do it. So we decided a year ago that I was going to do this show, and we started in December of 2015 to work on it. In January we talked to the Art Center and said that that’s going to be our show in the fall. That’s how the whole thing came about.”
There’s a lot more to the story of how Cheech Marin became an art collector, and we’ll learn about it next Wednesday. Approximately 15 works will be on view by maybe 14 artists, with at least a couple of works never before shown (parts of the collection have traveled, including a selection shown at LACMA in 2008). Some of the artists may be known to us, some may not, but it’s sure to be a colorful and eye-opening exhibition, and doubtless quite special for the South Bay communities. The artists include Chaz Bojorquez, Einar and Jamex de la Torre, David Flury, Margaret Garcia, Jacinto Guevara, Wayne Alaniz Healy, Adan Hernandez, Gronk, Frank Romero, Alex Rubio, Vincent Valdez, Andy Villarreal, George Yepes, and Jaime “Germs” Zacarias.
A Peek into Chicano Art: from the private collection of Cheech Marin, curated by Homeira Goldstein, opens Wednesday with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. (and a program at 7 p.m.) in the Manhattan Beach Art Center, 1560 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach. Hours, Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Through Dec. 31. Call (310) 379-5800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. ER