They were tired of being shut out, it was born out of frustration. You have a situation here in this city, right now, where upwards of 60% -almost 70%- of the population is Latino, overwhelmingly Mexican. [The Los Angeles County Museum of Art] derives 35% of its funds from coffers of a city which is 70% Latino and [Latinos] were being shut out of the Museum, they weren't being talked to, they were being stone-walled. "You don't exist, you're not artists, we're not talking to you, we're not hanging pictures of your culture on the wall, we're not doing shows by you."
Los Angeles' art scene has come a long way from when 70s art collective ASCO had to spray paint the front wall of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in order to "show" there. Today that same museum is home to two well-regarded Chicano-themed exhibits, Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement, and Los Angelenos/Chicano Painters of L.A.: Selections from the Cheech Marin Collection.
See art from Los Angelenos/Chicano Painters of L.A.: Selections from the Cheech Marin Collection
LACMA's facade has long since been "cleaned" and what once treated as vandalism - namely, Asco's tagging - is now a work of art displayed on a pristine gallery wall. The photo of the tags - the names of three ASCO members sprayed on a walkway while a fourth (Patssi Valdez) stares out at the city - is a genuinely complex and beautiful image, chock full of both pride and longing.
I can't help but think there's something about that picture's trajectory, where yesterday's disrespected mark is today's art world toast, that speaks to Marin's own journey. This is, after all, a man who started out making low-brow comedies that likely embarassed a fair share of "respectable" immigrants, and whose wealth has made it possible for him to help an entire generation of Chicano artists gain access to venues like LACMA. For many years, institutions like LACMA were unable to distingush between this -
- and this:
- but the "re-education of LACMA," as it were, is about more than eliminating a few pesky misconceptions about ethnicity and art. It's also about what wealth and the unique culture of Hollywood allowed one Mexican-American man to do for himself. Rapper Biggie Smalls once described his own journey as taking him from "from ashy to class;" is there a better tagline Marin's trip from stoner comic to patron of the arts? Probably not.