Two shows trace role of Chicanos in U.S.
Comic Cheech Marin's art collection is the basis of one of the ISM exhibitions.
By S.L. Berry
When Cheech Marin began collecting paintings in 1985, he
saw it as the culmination of a lifelong fascination with art and
artists. But when he discovered Chicano art, he saw it as a chance
of a lifetime.
Marin, who came to fame in the 1970s with partner Tommy
Chong in the comedy duo Cheech and Chong, has carved out a
lucrative career for himself as an actor, writer, director, and
musician. It's that success that has given him the financial freedom to
invest in the work of numerous Chicano artists.
As a result, Marin has amassed one of the largest
collections of Chicano art in the world. And it's his collection that is
the basis for "Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge,"
one of a pair of exhibitions opening at the Indiana State Museum on
The second exhibition is "Chicano Now: American
Expressions." Also a Marin production, it's an interactive
multimedia look at various aspects of Chicano life, ranging from
work, family and style to borders, identity and Chicano influences on
the broader culture.
The two exhibitions are currently on a five-year, 15-city
tour of the country under the collective banner of "Chicano."
The ISM is the first site in the Midwest to host the dual show,
which has been at San Antonio (where it debuted in November
2001) and El Paso, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; and
Collectively, the exhibitions highlight the contributions that
Chicanos have made to American culture, Marin said during a
recent telephone interview from his Los Angeles-area home.
"It's not a marginal contribution," said Marin, a third-generation
Mexican-American. "Chicanos have played an important role in the
development of this country throughout history. That's what these two
exhibitions are about -- helping people understand what Chicanos have
contributed to life in America."
From the museum's perspective, said project manager Despi Ray,
"Chicano" is a starting point for telling the stories and showcasing the cultures
of Indiana's growing Latino population.
"We're really glad to be the first Midwestern stop for the shows," said Ray.
"It gives us a chance to serve an audience that we know is out there, and an
audience that we want to include in what we're doing here."
To highlight the importance he attaches to the "Chicano" project, Marin will
be at the ISM for opening-day festivities. "I'm looking forward to introducing it
to Indianapolis," he said.
Marin began his longstanding passion for art while a high school student in
Granada Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles. "As a kid, I was interested in art, but I
couldn't do it," he said. "So I decided to study it, to learn about art and artists."
That led to Saturdays spent in libraries reading about art, then to museums
to see art firsthand. "Over time, I educated myself," said Marin, "and developed
But as knowledgeable as he became about art history, he wasn't very well
acquainted with contemporary art. That changed when he married his wife,
Patti, in 1986.
An artist, she began taking him to contemporary galleries and shows,
which is how he encountered the work of Chicano artists. "Their images
resonated with me," said Marin. "I knew good art when I saw it, and these
artists were good."
Good, but unknown -- and rarely collected. Marin began collecting art that
other collectors were ignoring.
The idea for "Chicano Visions" came from his frustration with the fact that
Chicano artists were being ignored by museums and galleries.
"I was seeing all of these wonderful paintings, which were as good (as) or
better than anything I saw being done by New York artists at the time," said
Marin, "but very few people knew about them. So I started buying paintings
with an eye toward developing a museum-quality show."
He's satisfied that "Chicano Visions," which he developed with the help of
San Francisco artist and curator Rene Yañez, is precisely that. Containing oil
and acrylic paintings and pastel drawings by 26 artists, including such
well-known figures as Carlos Almaráz, Carmen Lomas Garza and Glugio
"Gronk" Nicandro, it's the largest Chicano art show ever created.
It's an introduction to the variety and vitality of contemporary Chicano art,
said Marin. "You can't love or hate Chicano art unless you see it. This show
gives people a chance to see it."
In his search for help in developing his art showcase, Marin went to San
Antonio, Texas, home of BBH Exhibits Inc. (now Clear Channel Exhibitions).
But there was a glitch: As a multimedia exhibition production company, BBH
had no experience in staging an art exhibition.
So, with BBH's help, Marin expanded his concept to include a second
exhibition focused on Chicano life. He then enlisted the help of friends such as
film director Robert Rodríguez, comedians George López and Paul Rodríguez,
and comedy troupe Culture Clash to create "Chicano Now," a hands-on,
family-friendly look at the history and traditions of Chicanos.
Featuring interactive computer stations, a low-rider simulator, a jukebox
filled with music by Chicano performers, and videos, "Chicano Now" has
something for everyone, said Marin.
"We came up with a total Chicano experience," said Marin. "It's an idea
whose time has not only come, but is long overdue."