Dec. 17 2013 07:14 PM

Works from the actor's private collection will be on view at MCASD

“Donkey Show” by Jari “Werc” Alvarez, formerly of San Diego, is on view in Chicanitas.

"Cheech Marin" typically conjures up an image of a squinty-eyed, beanie-and-suspenders-wearing Mexican-American stoner from Cheech & Chong.

Nowadays, though, Marin is becoming known as a serious art collector and advocate who uses his celebrity status to promote Chicano art. The actor and comedian started collecting almost 30 years ago because the work resonated with him. He quickly amassed a collection that filled up his Los Angeles home and overflowed into storage. In 2001, Marin took his huge private collection public in Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge, a 12-city touring exhibition that lasted through 2007 and introduced the emerging genre of Chicano art to new audiences and venues, including the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) in 2004.

"Chicano art was being overlooked, and I had the opportunity," Marin says. "My mantra has been that you can't love or hate Chicano art unless you see it, so that has been my goal—to get people to see it."

Marin is currently touring with Chicanitas: Small Paintings from the Cheech Marin Collection {size doesn't matter}, an exhibition that opens at MCASD from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19, at the Jacobs Building (1100 Kettner Blvd., Downtown). Marin will be at the opening, signing copies of the exhibition's accompanying book.

"Cheech made it cool to collect Chicano art," says Raul Guerrero, a San Diego painter with work in Marin's collection. "He's accomplished a lot because of his visibility."

While the art world has largely been receptive of Marin's enthusiasm for exposing the oft-overlooked genre, there are those, like Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight, who think his private collection has no place being shown in public art museums, partly because the art wasn't selected by an experienced curator and gives viewers a look at one man's preferences rather than a researched and educational survey.

Criticisms of Marin's personal art quest aside, his new tour includes interesting small-scale works by artists like Ricardo Ruiz, Ana Teresa Fernández, Carlos Donjuán and longtime San Diego artist Werc, and the message behind the aggressive Chicano-art PR campaign is loud and clear.

"Chicanos are taking over, so get used to it," Marin laughs.

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