In September, the Smithsonian said that it would exhibit art from the personal collection of Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille. In the two months since the announcement, the public conversation surrounding Bill Cosby has changed to a degree that museum leaders may not have foreseen.
The exhibition of the Cosbys’ art -- which is on view through early 2016 as part of a larger show at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington -- has had the misfortune of opening at a time when the comedian is facing renewed as well as new allegations of rape made by several women.
Museums typically plan exhibitions at least several months, if not years, in advance. A spokesman for the Smithsonian said planning for the exhibition began two years ago.
Whereas NBC and Netflix have recently postponed or called off planned screen projects with Bill Cosby, the Smithsonian has made no public comments about the controversy.
The Cosbys’ personal art collection includes about 300 works acquired over four decades. The couple has lent 62 paintings, sculptures, mixed-media and textile works for the museum’s exhibition, “Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue.”
The couple’s collection focuses on works by African American artists, including such prominent names as Beauford Delaney, Elizabeth Catlett, Henry Ossawa Tanner and Faith Ringgold.
“Conversations” marks the 50th anniversary of the National Museum of African Art, which began as a private educational institution in 1964. The exhibition also features African traditional works from the museum’s collection.
The museum has made some of the Cosbys’ art viewable on a website devoted to the exhibition.