Chicano Art Receives Overdue Recognition In L.A.

Sunset Crash (1982) by Carlos Almaraz i i

Carlos Almaraz's Sunset Crash (1982) is one of the works on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Collection of Cheech Marin/The Carlos Almaraz Estate hide caption

itoggle caption Collection of Cheech Marin/The Carlos Almaraz Estate
Sunset Crash (1982) by Carlos Almaraz

Carlos Almaraz's Sunset Crash (1982) is one of the works on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Collection of Cheech Marin/The Carlos Almaraz Estate

Comedian and actor Richard "Cheech" Marin is most often associated with his role in Cheech and Chong — the irreverent comedy duo of the '70s and early '80s. Yet today, Marin is making his mark as one of the world's foremost collectors of artwork by Mexican-American artists.

Marin is third-generation Mexican-American — or Chicano, as he prefers to be called. Of his nearly 400 works of art, he selected 35 for "Los Angelenos/Chicano Painters of L.A." currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

The celebration of Chicano work at LACMA marks a turnaround for a city whose major institutions had virtually ignored work by Mexican-American artists.

"It's been hard-fought recognition," Marin says.

Writer and artist Harry Gamboa Jr. recalls an outing to LACMA back in 1972; 21 years old at the time, Gamboa found a curator and demanded to know why Chicano artists were not represented at the museum.

"He turned around and he says, 'Chicanos, they don't make art. They're in gangs,'" Gamboa remembers.

Gamboa left the museum outraged. He returned 10 hours later with two Mexican-American friends. In the middle of the night, the three scrawled their names in red and black spray paint on the museum's entrances.

Gamboa went on to co-found the first Chicano conceptual art group and inspired a new generation of Chicano artists. LACMA's "Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement" explores modern, experimental work by Mexican-American artists.

Marin says he hopes that LACMA's exhibits and other exhibits like them will help bring an end to Chicanos' "phantom" status.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports for member station KPCC in Southern California.

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