Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture: Opening June 18, 2022–Riverside, California

The actor and advocate’s collection of works by Mexican-American artists is on display at a new museum, which opens this weekend.


Cheech Marin, who gained fame as half of the pioneering stoner-comedy duo Cheech & Chong in the ’70s before acting in film and television, thought it was kismet.
The midcentury building he’d been offered to house his leading collection of art by Chicanos (people of Mexican descent born in the U.S.) was 61,420 square feet.

The new Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum opened June 18 in the former downtown public library building of Riverside, California.

It will feature paintings, photos, sculptures and drawings from the Chicano art movement, ranging from Frank Romero and Judithe Hernández to Gilbert “Magú” Luján and Patssi Valdez.

“This school of American art is incredibly important in its longevity and its reach, from coast to coast. It’s as important as the Hudson River Valley or Ash Can or anything else. It just hasn’t had its moment of glory yet,” says Marin, who was approached about creating the center by Riverside city officials after he exhibited in 2017 his collection at the Art Museum in Riverside, which is a majority-Latino city.

He has so far gifted 500 items from his more than 700-piece collection to the institution, whose new home underwent $13.3 million retrofit, funded by the state.

Tickets provide entry to both The Cheech and the Riverside Art Museum.


Lazy loaded image

Marin, 75, a collector since childhood (baseball cards, marbles, stamps) — “that was always part of my deal” — devoted himself to collecting and promoting Chicano art after first discovering under-the-radar group of Texas painters in the late 1980s. He explains: “Some are a little more rural, some are a little more urban, but they’re cousins in the same family.”

Marin has bankrolled his collection with the help of his acting on TV’s Nash Bridges as well as voicing characters on Disney animated films, The Lion King and Cars to Coco and Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

The collection has been shown at many museums, including LACMA, Smithsonian and San Francisco’s De Young.

“My comeback was always ‘Well, I have this collection and you don’t,’ ” says Marin, claiming that the fine-art world had overlooked, condescended to and marginalized Chicano artists. “There was no answer to that, because I was out there collecting when nobody was taking this seriously.”

Zach Horowitz, the former chair and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group who has since founded the Latino podcast company Pitaya, is fellow collector of Chicano art who serves on the board of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.

Lazy loaded image
The 2020 de la Torre brothers artwork Feminencia. CHEECH CHICANO MUSUEM OF ART

Says Marin: “What I’ve learned is there’s nothing more expensive than free gift,” experiencing sticker shock when he learned he’d have to pay for appraisal on each of his donated pieces. As a celebrity collector, he’s also found that some artists reveal an exploitative tendency to turn singular pieces he’s purchased into ex post facto series.

Chicano Vs. Latino

The museum and its educational component (including a filmmaking seminar by director Robert Rodriguez) intend to leverage Marin’s collection to explore fundamental questions, including the divide between those who identify as “Chicano” and the younger generation who associate with the term “Latino.”

“What we’re doing is weaving tales about the collection,” says artistic director María Esther Fernández. “We’re looking at the works together and individually, how they’re in conversation thematically, politically, artistically, conceptually, visually, historically.”

At first, The Cheech will highlight works from the late painter Carlos Almaraz — subject of the 2020 Netflix documentary Playing With Fire — as well as Glugio “Gronk” Nicandro, a multidisciplinary artist who was member of the Dada-influenced East L.A. collective Asco.

Marin’s home in Pacific Palisades, which he shares with his third wife, the classical pianist Natasha Rubin, has for years been a pilgrimage stop for the top-tier art collecting likes of Steve Martin.

Lazy loaded image
Marin and Einar and Jamex de la Torre looking at the artists’ artwork at The Cheech based on the Aztec earth goddess Coatlicue. CARLOS PUMA/PUMA IMAGES

Marin provided a tour, from dining room to upstairs bathroom and master bedroom. Between ardent meditations on brush technique and museum-caliber hanging systems, he mused on his durable entertainment career (“I’ve always existed outside the main framework of show business”) as well as his intermittent periods of artwork deaccession (“It’s called divorce”).

His multiple marijuana ventures: “You have to invent the wheel in every state,” he muses on the regulatory hassles associated with the so-called cannabis green rush. This year he’s debuted Muncheechos, a delivery concept involving ghost kitchens, as well as a separate weed line launched with Tommy Chong. He already had Cheech’s Stash, a curated offering of pre-rolls, proprietary strains and natural edibles.

Lazy loaded image
The 2017 painting Juarez Quinceañera, by Judithe Hernández, part of the L.A.-based 1970s Chicano art collective Los Four. COURTESY OF CHEECH CHICANO MUSEUM OF ART

The nuances of artwork display is overwhelming. Even with an amply sized building, the museum expects half a decade before it cycles through the entirety of Marin’s collection. “We want people to turn every corner and there’s some knockout piece with its own dedicated wall,” he says.