After work on Friday, January 11, I had the opportunity to attend an exhibition opening at the Whatcom Museum. Cheech Marin, of Cheech and Chong fame, has amassed a collection of small paintings by Chicano and Chicana artists, and he has loaned the collection to museums around the United States. The exhibit is here at our museum through March 24, 2013.
The event was a museum members’ and their guests only event, and Cheech Marin was there in person to introduce the exhibit and give a little context. I went with a coworker, and there were a couple of other coworkers there, so at the beginning we did some chatting, had a glass of wine and enjoyed the Mexican appetizers that were provided. The food was catered by Jalapenos restaurant in town, and they always do a great job. Sadly though, when we went through the line, there was no more guacamole! I had to settle for only sour cream – but that’s hardly worth mentioning.
After a little while, Cheech arrived and spent some time mingling with some of the evening’s guests. It was kind of funny to watch him get pinned down by one person or another. Eventually the staff had to extract him so he could go upstairs and introduce the exhibit – otherwise I think people would have talked his ear off all night!
The exhibit was upstairs in the Whatcom Museum’s smaller exhibit gallery, and Cheech spent a bit of time discussing the collection and how he came to own the various artworks. He emphasized that the collection was created not by Mexican artists, rather Chicano and Chicana artists who are Americans. While some of them were born in Mexico, they all now live in the United States. And all the paintings are small – the dimensions for the collection did not exceed 16 x 16 inches. I don’t remember everything he told us, but he is clearly proud of the art that is emerging from this group of artists. He collects both established and emerging artists, and one of the things that was interesting for me was not knowing who was who.
The paintings generally explore the cultural lives of the artists; examples include four exquisitely done still lifes of common foods eaten in Mexico, such as stomach and tripe, and a series that show men wearing masks worn by the Lucha Libre professional wrestlers that are very much a part of the culture in Mexico. I have to say, the subject matter of an animal’s stomach is a bit disconcerting, but the painting was excellent – very realistic! Cheech told us that his hope is that the exhibit will help people embrace the cultural shifts that our country has experienced over time by introducing people to the Chicano art movement.
My coworker and I enjoyed moving through the galleries and looking at each work. Chicano art includes some bright vibrant colors and eye catching scenes. I certainly liked some more than others, but they all were very interesting. I really enjoyed myself, and got the chance to see some artwork that opened my eyes to some emerging styles.
And last but not least, my favorite painting of the collection was by Ana Teresa Fernandez. Her paintings provide a social commentary in pictures, showing women dressed up to be very sexual and provocative, completing day to day domestic chores. Her work exudes the sexuality that she intends the viewer to feel, and it makes you think about the roles women are expected to fill. Her work is so real you have trouble believing it is a painting and not a photograph. I would love to see more!
So, if you have a chance, check this exhibit out. As an added bonus, the Whatcom Museum is also showing Impressionist Paintings by California artists. That exhibit is certainly worth the time.