Unless you’re into Route 66 kitsch, you wouldn’t think to head away from Los Angeles, toward the Inland Empire, for the year’s hottest art show. Richard “Cheech” Marin, of the comedy duo Cheech & Chong, however, flipped that norm on its cabeza in 2022.
Thanks to Cheech’s generous art donation to the Riverside Art Museum, the Inland Empire now has the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture, a space dedicated to showcasing the greatest Chicano art. Since its opening in June 2022, thousands have flocked to “the Cheech” to revel in creations by legendary artists such as Gronk, Frank Romero, Carlos Almaraz, and Pattsi Valdez.
With so much buzz around Chicano art, it is only fitting that the museum’s inaugural temporary exhibition would turn inward, analyzing Mexican culture and its relationship with its own past.
Titled Collidoscope: de la Torre Brothers Retro-Perspective, the show spotlights roughly three decades of work by sculptors and mixed-media artists Einar and Jamex de la Torre. The brother team, who make art both north and south of the border, present a range of work from various mediums, such as blown-glass pieces, massive collages, and multiple lenticular creations. The unifying theme of the exhibition is cheekily announced in its name: “retro-perspective.” The de la Torre brothers offer not only a perspective on the past but also a way of looking at the present with the past.
Pieces like Niño Héroe (2016) bring this philosophy into focus. An archival lenticular print set in a light box, the work depicts a nude, red-skinned Indigenous man emerging from a backdrop of cerveza bottles and cathedral-like pillars on which white, statuesque faces glare down upon him. With a tortured visage, the man reaches toward the viewer. The work suggests that while a new Mexican culture may have emerged from the collision of Spanish and Indigenous civilizations, it still contains, within its nucleus, a dynamic duality.
In another piece, titled Aztec Rolex (2000), the de la Torre brothers wrap a traditional-looking Aztec calendar, made from blown glass and other mixed media, with a teal bicycle chain. Dominoes are placed inside the calendar, giving the observer the unsettling feeling that the events of their life are being wagered in a game by higher powers. Considered from another angle, though, the calendar appears to be an invitation to rethink time—is it spent in years or in moments?—and to consider how that might affect one’s being.
Perhaps the most provocative piece in the exhibition is La Belle Epoch (2002), a surreal Ferris wheel–like contraption that depicts the Aztec sun god, Huitzilopochtli, in the center, pink tongue protruding from his mouth. Yet, instead of holding weapons in his hands, as he is classically depicted, Huitzilopochtli grips a knife in one hand and a bottle in the other. Human hearts are still part of the equation, though; they’re affixed to the ends of the Ferris wheel and dip into a canoe of blood as it spins. Between the hearts are transparent boxes that contain logos of iconic brands like Coca-Cola.
The Aztec sun god may no longer demand human sacrifice, yet people still give their hearts to things that destroy them. Call it the spirit of greed or lust or consumerism. Whatever it is, it’s a poignant reminder that one need not be religious to have a god. It’s a terrifying image.
Although this gallery space originated with a comedian, the work it contains is no joke.•