Bill Cosby Will Lend His Art Collection to the Smithsonian

Bill Cosby.
Photo: © 2014 Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

Legendary comedian Bill Cosby and his wife Camille will loan all 300-plus artworks that they have acquired over the past 40 years to the Smithsonian for a major exhibition this fall. “Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue” will open November 9 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art (NMAA) in Washington, DC, and run through early 2016.

“It’s so important to show art by African American artists in this exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art,” Bill Cosby said in a statement. “To me, it’s a way for people to see what exists and to give voice to many of these artists who were silenced for so long, some of whom will speak no more.”


Simmie Knox, Portrait of Bill and Camille Cosby (1984).
Photo: David Stansbury, permission courtesy of the artist. The Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.

The show, announced last week, will showcase the incredible breadth of of the Cosbys’ collection, including works by Faith Ringgold, Elizabeth Catlett, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Romare Bearden, Beauford Delaney, and more. No fewer than four curators will work on the exhibition: scholar and artist curator David C. Driskell; independent scholar Adrienne L. Child; NMAA chief curator and deputy director Christine Mullen Kreamer; and NMAA curator Bryna Freyer.


Eldzier Cortor, Still Life: Souvenir No. IV (1982).
Photo: Frank Stewart, permission courtesy of the artist. The Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.

The exhibition will juxtapose paintings, prints, photographs, sculptures, and drawings by African American artists with pieces of traditional African art as well as contemporary art from Africa, including works by William Kentridge and Fodé Camara.


Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Thankful Poor (1894).
Photo: Frank Stewart. The Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.

As Camille Cosby puts it in a statement: “Our mission can be summarized by Elizabeth Catlett, ‘Art must answer a question, or wake somebody up, or give a shove in the right direction.’”

Watch Bill and Camille Cosby discuss their collection:

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