Richard “Cheech” Marin of comedy duo Cheech and Chong isn’t just known for stoner comedy – he’s also a lover of Chicano art, which he began collecting around 1985. “It’s an addiction,” he said. “Hi, my name is Cheech and I’m an art addict.”
Marin said his addiction is “the love of the subject.”
“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve collected everything — marbles, baseball cards, stamps, everything,” he told CBS News.
Marin’s success as part of the comedy team and other acting roles allowed him to invest in his passion. “I was the perfect storm,” he said. “I knew what the art was, I had money to collect it and I had fame to promote it.”
According to Marin, Chicano art is not a style of painting; it’s more of a flavor of the Mexican-American community.
And now his collection has a permanent home at the Riverside Art Museum’s new Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture in Riverside, California. It is affectionately known as “The Cheech”.
“I did that asap,” he laughed. “‘What shall we call that?’ ‘The Cheech would be a good name!'”
In the lobby, visitors are greeted by a 26-foot-tall lenticular installation of an Aztec earth goddess, commissioned for the museum by the De la Torre brothers.
“It’s alive because you see something new every time you look at it,” Marin said.
Marin donated more than 500 paintings, drawings and sculptures – works by dozens of artists – to the museum. Among them is a painting by Wayne Alaniz Healy, which Marin described as “Norman Rockwell meets Jackson Pollock.”
“He jumped off the wall at me. I’m like, ‘Whoa!’” he said.
There are works by Carlos Almaraz, whom Marin calls “the John Coltrane of the Chicano painters” (“Because he applies color with such spontaneity”); and Margaret García, “the Chicano Gauguin”.
Another painting is by Frank Romero, The Arrest of the Paleteros.
As Marin explained, “Paleteros are ice cream vendors. And this is MacArthur Park [in Los Angeles]. And they wanted to try to clean up MacArthur Park because there were gangs and trouble. So they sent a SWAT team to arrest the ice cream vendors. And you can see it. I mean, it’s like little kids with popsicles over their heads.”
There’s also a portrait of Marin himself, which he playfully referred to as the Chicano Mona Lisa.
“That’s from Eloy Torrez,” Marin said. “All painters at some point when I started collecting said, ‘If I paint a picture of Cheech, he’ll probably buy it!'”
“He wanted this work to be seen,” said María Esther Fernández, artistic director of The Cheech. “And I think that’s where he differs from other collectors. And so he knocked on doors, and he wasn’t always well received, but he insisted.”
As Marin explained, “I was a stoner comedian with this collection. And there was always something like a setback at the beginning. None of the museum directors wanted to put their heads on the block.”
He was determined to tour his collection and take it to about 50 museums across the country. In 2002 he made it to the Smithsonian. “What we’re saying with this exhibition is that Chicano is American,” he said.
Then, in 2017, the city of Riverside, with a population over 50% Latino, wanted to find a new mission for their old library—and came to Marin.
“Yeah, that’s the part I never expected. And I didn’t understand what they were saying at first. ‘You want me to buy a museum? I’m doing pretty well, but I don’t know if I’m museum rich!’ “No, no, we want give you the museum. You give us the collection and we take care of it.” OK. Let’s go! Jump off the cliff and let’s go.”
After a nearly $13 million renovation, The Cheech was born.
Marin was asked how it felt to be greeted by visitors praising the collection. “It goes beyond the dream, you know? I never dreamed this dream. It’s too big a dream.”
But what about his movies and comedy?
“I’m equally proud of both,” he said. “But the pride that emanates from this one transcends everything.”
Marin is still making films – three in the last year alone, including the romantic comedy Shotgun Wedding.
And he still collects.
“Yeah, I’m not even trying not to,” he laughed. “I’m not a zillionaire and I’m like, ‘Hey, send me two tons of this art,’ you know? That’s why I work all the time. I work, ‘Oh, I can get this picture.’ Because there are still masterpieces of Chicano art being created by the best artists right now, but there’s no greater joy than standing in front of a new painting and saying, “Wow, that’s cool!” You know, that is the best part.”