Richard “Cheech” Marin, of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong, is not only renowned for stoner comedies — he’s also an aficionado of Chicano art, which he started 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 “about love of the subject.”
“I’ve been a collector of anything since I was a little kid – marbles, baseball cards, stamps, anything,” 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 celebrity in order to proselytize for it.”
Chicano art, according to Marin, isn’t 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 new Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum, in Riverside, California. It’s affectionately known as “The Cheech.”
“I got that in as soon as I possibly could,” he laughed. “‘What should we call this?’ ‘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 is alive, ’cause you see something new every time you look at it,” Marin said.
Marin donated more than 500 paintings, drawings and sculptures to the museum — works by dozens of artists. Among them is a painting by Wayne Alaniz Healy that Marin described as “Norman Rockwell meets Jackson Pollock.”
“This one jumped off the wall at me. I go, ‘Whoa!'” he said.
There are works by Carlos Almaraz, whom Marin refers to as “the John Coltrane of Chicano painters” (“‘Cause he puts the paint on with such spontaneity”); and Margaret García, “the Chicano Gauguin.”
Another of the paintings is by Frank Romero, “The Arrest of the Paleteros.”
As Marin explained: “Paleteros are ice cream men. And so, this is MacArthur Park [in Los Angeles]. And they were gonna try to clean up MacArthur Park because there was gangs and there was trouble. So what they did is, they sent in a SWAT team to arrest the ice cream men. And you can see it. I mean, this is like, little kids with the popsicles over their head.”
There is also a portrait of Marin himself, which he playfully described as the Chicano Mona Lisa.
“This is by Eloy Torrez,” Marin said. “All the painters at some point, when I started collecting, they go, ‘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 diverges from other collectors. And so, he knocked on doors, and he wasn’t always well-received, but he persisted.”
As Marin explained, “I was a stoner comedian with this collection. And there was always kind of like a pushback there at the beginning. None of the museum directors wanted to put their head on the block.”
He was determined to tour his collection, taking it to some 50 museums around the country. In 2002, he brought it to the Smithsonian. “What we are saying with this exhibit is, Chicano is American,” he said.
Then in 2017, the city of Riverside, with a population more than 50% Latino, wanted to find a new mission for its old library — and came to Marin.
“Yes, that is the part that 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 good, but I don’t know if I’m museum rich!’ ‘No, no, we wanna give you the museum. You give us the collection and we’ll take care of it.’ OK. Let’s go! Jump off the cliff, and away we went.”
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’s beyond the dream, you know? I never dreamed this dream. It’s too big a dream.”
But how does it rank with his movies and comedy?
“I’m equally proud of both,” he said. “But the pride that emanates from this one is beyond anything.”
Marin is still making movies — three in the last year alone, including the romantic comedy “Shotgun Wedding.”
And he’s still collecting.
“Yeah, I don’t even try not to,” he laughed. “I’m not a zillionaire and say, ‘Hey, send over two tons of that art,’ you know? That’s why I work all the time. I’m working, ‘Oh, I can get that painting.’ Because there’s still masterpieces of Chicano art being made by the best artists right now. But there’s no greater joy than standing in front of a new painting like, ‘Wow, is that cool!’ You know, that’s the best part of it.”