Smithsonian posts notice in front of Bill Cosby art exhibition

Quilts from the Bill and Camille Cosby collection hang at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

Quilts from the Bill and Camille Cosby collection hang at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

The Smithsonian has posted a notice in front of an exhibition that features art from the private collection of Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, currently on view at the National Museum of African Art in Washington.

“Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue” opened to the public in November and is scheduled to conclude in early 2016. In the months leading up to the show, and in recent weeks, cultural commentators have questioned whether the museum should have moved forward with the exhibition in light of the rape allegations that have dogged the comedian. Attorneys for Cosby have denied the accusations.

On Wednesday, the museum provided The Times with the full statement that greets visitors to the exhibition, which is partially funded by the Cosbys.


The statement says in part that the allegations against Cosby “cast a negative light on what should be a joyful exploration of African and African American art in this gallery.”

It continues: “The National Museum of African Art in no way condones Mr. Cosby’s behavior. We continue to present ‘Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue’ because it is fundamentally about the artworks and the artists who created them, not Mr. Cosby.”

The museum, which has posted a similar message on its website, said that most of the objects in the show are from its own permanent collection, and that about one-third are on loan from Camille and Bill Cosby.

The couple’s collection features works by African American artists, including such prominent names as Beauford Delaney, Elizabeth Catlett, Henry Ossawa Tanner and Faith Ringgold.

A spokesman for the museum said via email that the Cosbys gave the institution $716,000 to cover the costs of the exhibition. In addition, the museum spent about $136,000 to support the exhibition, he said.

“Conversations” marks the 50th anniversary of the National Museum of African Art, which began as a private educational institution in 1964. It is now part of the Smithsonian Institution.

In an interview this week with the Washington Post, Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s undersecretary for history, art and culture, described the controversy as a “complex situation.” He emphasized that Camille Cosby, who sits on the mueum’s advisory board, played a large part in getting the exhibition off the ground.

Kurin also addressed a question about the personal relationship between the Cosbys and museum director Johnnetta Cole.

He said that Cole “does have a history close to the Cosbys,” and that “obviously Johnnetta is in a difficult place with this.”

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