Cheech: Champion of Chicano Art
Grant Hill isn't the only celebrity whose personal collection tours the country and enlightens the masses. While neither "pro-athlete" nor "stoned comedian" would come to mind as the profile of a prominent identity-themed art collector, both Hill and comedian Cheech Marin are using their notoriety to create awareness for identity-based schools of art.
"All art needs champions, and I decided to become a champion," said Marin, who first became famous as part of the duo Cheech and Chong and has gone on to act and direct in various movies and TV shows including Nash Bridges.
While Marin won't put his collection on display at the Nasher Museum of Art anytime soon, the exhibit, Chicano Visions, is currently on display at The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Chicano Visions is in the midst of a five-year tour of the country alongside the non-traditional exhibit Chicano Now, comprised of 15 commissioned videos covering themes like the border, family and style. And when the national tour comes to an end in 2008, it will continue overseas with a show already planned in Madrid, Spain.
Marin, like Hill, can trace his interest in the arts back to his childhood. He has been educating himself about art since the age of six or seven, he said, when he would go to the library in his hometown of Los Angeles and look through the art books. As he grew older, he discovered the Chicano art school.
"Chicano painters were actually a school of painters and they weren't getting space," Marin, a third-generation Mexican American, said. "They were being ignored, and I couldn't let this body of work and [the artists'] time as painters pass by without being noticed."
The Chicano Movement has been developing since the end of the Mexican War in 1848, when the current U.S.-Mexican border took form. During the 1960s, poitical leaders César Chávez and Dolores Huerta gave the movement a national voice in the poltical arena, and drew attention to the term "Chicano." A large part of the movement has always been cultural, including the evolution of the arts in various forms of expression, from visual art to music.
"For some artists Chicano [art] is precise," said Esther Gabara, assistant professor of romance studies, and art, art history and visual studies. "[But] there are people who identify as Chicano who are interested in making art that deals with a range of issues that have to do with his or her own interests."
One of the first main exhibitions of Chicano art to travel the country was CARA: Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985 in the early 1990s. About 10 years ago, Marin--who since his pot-smoking days has lent his voice to Banzai, the hyena in The Lion King, and Ramone, the low-rider in this summer's Cars--said he had the vision to get his collection on the road and to create a down-home appreciation of Chicano culture. This down-home idea came to life as the Chicano Now exhibit.
"I was the one who had the vision of, 'Hey, let's try to do this,'" Marin said. "But it was a giant effort over years by many people including scholars, artists and technicians."
The presence of a major collector such as Marin or Hill is important in setting a market price for art outside the mainstream, Gabara said.
"Often people producing art from outside the mainstream are undervalued in the art market," Gabara added. "Having a major collector who gives a profile of what a collection of Chicano art would be like is a realistic part that appears as a ripple effect."
Corporate America has also played a role in getting Chicano art the space Marin envisioned. He partnered with Target Corporation to bring Chicano art to audiences all over the country. Using Target's knowledge of their market, the collaborators chose certain cities based on demographics and then approached the top modern art museums in those cities to show Chicano Visions and Chicano Now, Marin said.
And while the cities may have been strategically selected, Marin said it appeals to absolutely everyone, giving Chicano Visions and Chicano Now the ability to break attendance records in every city.
"It's really great art. People wouldn't come if it was so-so art," Marin said. "It's like hearing music you have never heard before and thinking, 'These guys can really play,' and you're drawn to it."