Judging by e-mails and comment book messages, opinions vary among the public on the Smithsonian’s decision to stand by a show including art from the collection of Bill and Camille Cosby. The National Museum of African Art stands by its exhibition “Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue” despite dozens of women’s accusations that Cosby drugged and raped them.
“Beautiful, inspiring art and pairings,” wrote a visitor in a comment book at the museum, according to the Miami Herald. “Perhaps when the exhibit is over, Bill Cosby can descend to the lower levels of hell.” The comment is signed “JS, Boston.”
“Art is art. This is something worth seeing,” wrote a visitor who signed the message MC. “I’m glad the Smithsonian had the guts to keep the Cosby collection. Bravo!”
The Smithsonian turned over dozens of emails to the Associated Press after the AP reported that the show was largely funded by the Cosbys themselves, a fact that the museum conveniently concealed until earlier this month. The museum tried to distance itself from Cosby’s “behavior” with a statement on its website, but said that the show is “fundamentally about the artworks and the artists who created them, not the owners of the collections.”
“Should the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York close because it was funded by basically the robber barons?” asked George Bierlin, visiting the museum from Florida, talking to the Herald.
“Thank you for standing by the decision to exhibit and show this outstanding collection,” visitor Aaro Jean Bell Reid wrote in a guest book. “We should remember that the real man behind this collection is (art scholar) David Driskell. Cosby only wrote the checks.” Driskell, an artist and art historian whose work is included in the show, also advised Cosby on the formation of his collection.
But there have also been detractors. Some people have emailed the museum calling the show “sad and pathetic” and “disgusting.”
“The truth is that the Smithsonian cannot separate the art that they (are) exhibiting from the fact that for decades Bill Cosby used his most prominent position in the arts to drug and rape untold numbers of women and girls who were themselves trying to climb that difficult ladder in the arts,” another commenter wrote.
The Smithsonian came under fire in 2010 for removing a video by David Wojnarowicz from the exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery. The video, A Fire in My Belly, included a short clip of ants crawling on a crucifix. Republican officials like John Boehner and Eric Cantor called for the show to be taken down.
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