The Cheech Marin Center is an important repository of Chicano art

Saturday was the day of red letter in the art history of Southern California. The Riverside Art Museum opened its doors on June 18th Cheech Marinin Chicano Center for the Arts and Culture in a beautifully restored 61,000-square-foot former library building in the city center. No other museum presents a major permanent exhibition that focuses on any critically important aspect of the region’s rich post-war art history, which is the foundation on which Los Angeles has become a global cultural capital in the last generation.

Not Light and Space art, which grew out of the acutely acute, geometric Hard Edge painting of the 1950s, became the first distinctive movement of Los Angeles.

Not Assemblage, which combined the anti-establishment ethos of the 1950s counterculture with the rise of civil rights and black art movements to create a way to work with Discovered Objects and Rescued Materials that are still on display in art.

Not feminist art that has been a pioneer at the forefront of things like CalArts and The Woman’s Building and is quickly associated with the equal rights advocated internationally by artists of all genders.

No… well, you understand the idea. Museums in Southern California have exceptional individual spaces in these and other important genres, including the art of Chicano, and some even have extensive collections in one or more of them. But nowhere can one go to see art history permanently on display at any depth for public review. Instead, we get a little of this, a little of that – useful if that’s not enough.

So far.

Cheech, like the Riverside Department has inevitably been nicknamed, is the first time it comes from a celebrity-assembled art collection donated over more than 30 years by comedian-actor Cheech Marin. Chicano art is offered in a focused way – a serious, playful and extensive visual vocabulary, some of which are more successful than others, and all worth considering.

The lawn leading to the trees leads to the Cheech Museum, a brown and white building.

The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture is located in the former Riverside Library.

(Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times)

Built in 1964, the two-story library building is across the street from the fabulous Mission Inn, the country’s largest Mission Revival-style building. Kulapat Yantrasast and WHY Architecture, in partnership with storage company Page & Turnbull, formed and renovated the contrasting Midcentury Modern Library, located across the street from a tree-shaded lawn. The foundation of the Chicano art community is recognized by the gallery, located right inside the front door.

On the ground floor there are galleries for a permanent collection, which currently contains more than 550 works, mainly paintings and drawings. (There are 94 in the opening exhibition.) Among the artists are well-established figures such as Carlos Almaraz, Glugio “Gronk” Nicandro, Frank Romero, John M. Valadez and Patssi Valdez. There are also nice surprises, such as sensual little oil paintings of nocturnal food stalls in the neighborhood that glow like modest areas of ink in the midnight darkness of ink. By Joe Peña, a new Texas artist for me.

Upstairs are the offices, training center, auditorium and galleries of changing exhibitions. Currently on display is Collidoscope, which examines the glaring pop sculptures of Guadalajara-born brothers Einar and Jamex De La Torre. They split their time between studios in San Diego and Baja California. (The brothers ’two-story vertical mural is permanently installed in the building’s bright atrium.) The Emblematic is a clever installation centered on a large Olmec head connected by De La Torres to a moon-landing module, cunningly contemplating haze. The Ancient Origins and Modern “Stranger Life” of Mesoamerican Society. (The legs of the calculator are gold-colored.) The skillful fusions of their sculptures of traditional blown glass, the lens-like optics of the souvenir shop, and the boisterous popular image can best be called the fiery Baroque.

A redesigned library building usually works well in museum galleries with one caveat: Lighting is a problem. The retractable ceilings have been removed and the exposed ducts have been painted a beautiful light gray. But the placement possibilities of the track lighting are limited, and the hot spots are disturbing instead of the walls washed evenly into the light. Lighting requires work.

The sculpture of Olmec's head merged with a vehicle landing on the moon.

Brothers Einar and Jamex De La Torre connect our heads to a vehicle landing on the moon at their Collidoscope show.

(Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times)

Cheía’s artistic director, María Esther Fernández, has overseen the installation of a permanent collection in smart, loosely themed clusters.

The first room displays cityscapes that subtly portray the cultural expression of chicano as a largely urban phenomenon. The Chicano civil rights movement originated from the famous 1965 grape strike in rural Central Valley, California, where Mexican migrants joined forces with protesting Filipino workers but artists gather in the cities. The room is anchored in Romero’s monumental 1996 film “The Arrest of the Paleteros,” in which police have plunged into Echo Park in Los Angeles to destroy astonished women, men and children who happily enjoy the juice spikes of seemingly unauthorized street vendors. The absurdity of the histrionic (and dangerous) scene squeezed into the lower third of the canvas is accentuated by the beautiful picturesque luxury of the lake lined with palm trees, which fills the rest of the picture.

The transition between the rooms begins with Almaraz’s colorful 1982 “Sunset Crash”. It’s an iconic image of flames falling in the sky like asteroids as they pass a stacked highway overpass, like downtown Los Angeles, which separates the city from the historically Latin-centric Eastside. its more about Anglo Westside. Historical paintings, born out of violent oppression, open up, followed by portraits of portraits (including Eloy Torrez Marin), dreams of opera with surrealism and graffiti. None of these theme rooms are strictly defined, and a narrow classification is wisely avoided.

It’s important because it keeps Chicano’s definition of art open – a question more than an answer. What is Chicano’s art anyway? Is it essentialist, characterized by the artist’s ethnicity? Or socially constructed, identifiable by topic? Dictated by political coverage? At the intersection of all?

What about Chicano’s abstraction? Is this possible?

The paintings hang on the white walls of the museum.

The installation of Cheech’s first permanent collection includes nearly 100 paintings and drawings.

(Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times)

The closest here, by the way, entirely to an installation on Figurative Art, is “El Verde,” a recently magnificently composed painting by self-taught Texas artist Candelario Aguilar Jr. On the other side, a swarm of gesturing colors in five images rises densely from the floor. is a ghostly revelation of a wrestler reminiscent of the legendary El Veneno Verde – a green poison, disguised luchador. It feels like a cultural hero is practically squeezed from Aguilar’s ​​paint tube.

The inaugural part of the permanent collection, called “Cheech Collects,” marks the beginning of a transition from private taste to public history. Marini’s personal collection has traveled extensively, including an exhibition Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but it could not escape the limitation of fostering the enthusiasm of just one person – a pitfall for every private collection encountered in an art historical setting. Marin’s taste experiences, for example, have largely focused on LA painting since the 1980s, mainly in the hands of men, while Chicano’s art is broader. His collection is a great core for the museum, but growth and diversification are essential. In the years to come, “Cheech Collects” has evolved into “The Cheech Collects,” moving from the private to the institutional and diving into an extensive scholarship in Chicano’s art history.

There is work ahead. A welcome sign that this is already happening is the inclusion of two great, haunting pastel colors by Chicana’s feminist artist Judithe Hernández, a former member of the 1970s Chicano collective Los Four. Hernández is scheduled to present a retrospective at the museum next year, and two pastel colors – another seven-foot-wide diptych – are from his ongoing series of poetic meditation on the unsolved abductions of women working at the museum. maquiladoras Around the Mexican border town of Juárez. According to the labels of the works, they are recent museum acquisitions.

It will definitely happen more. The generation of Chicano artists and activists, born in the late 1960s, knew that strengthening oneself required historical knowledge. The same goes for art that spreads and adapts to other art. Riverside is currently conducting a systematic study of the useful, relevant art history of Chicano.

Where: Cheech Marin Chicano Center for the Arts and Culture at the Riverside Museum of Art, 3581 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside
When: Monday to Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check the website for exceptions.
Contact: (951) 684-7111,

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