Smithsonian Show Will Address Bill Cosby’s Rape Allegations

The museum's director promises to offer the "unvarnished truth."

Bill Cosby arrives at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania for the second day of hearings in the sexual assault case against him. Photo: Ed Hille-Pool/Getty Images.
Bill Cosby arrives at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania for the second day of hearings in the sexual assault case against him.
Photo: Ed Hille-Pool/Getty Images.

Historian Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the soon-to-open National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, would like to clarify a few “misconceptions and mistaken notions” regarding a controversial show slated to feature Bill Cosby.

Earlier this week, the Smithsonian Institution announced that an inaugural exhibition at the new space will be dedicated to African Americans’ contributions to film, television, and entertainment. In a statement on Thursday, Bunch, formerly the director of the Chicago History Museum, said that the exhibition, “Taking the Stage,” which opens September 24, isn’t designed to honor or celebrate the disgraced comedian—at least not exactly. “Some people feel that the Smithsonian should eliminate all mention of Bill Cosby as a result of recent revelations,” Bunch acknowledged. “We understand but respectfully disagree.”

This isn’t the first time the Smithsonian took a clear position on Cosby’s damaged legacy. Following the rape accusations leveled against him in 2015, members of the public called to terminate an exhibition of African American art at the Smithsonian that drew heavily from Cosby’s personal art collection. Instead, the museum elected to keep it open.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Photo: Michael R. Barnes, courtesy the Smithsonian Institution.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.
Photo: Michael R. Barnes, courtesy the Smithsonian Institution.

In light of this announcement, what can we expect from the exhibition? In his statement, Bunch offers “the unvarnished truth.” He further explained: “Like all of history, our interpretation of Bill Cosby is a work in progress, something that will continue to evolve as new evidence and insights come to the fore.”

According to a recent tweet, the museum outlines that of the 150 objects curated into “Taking the Stage,” only two touch on the controversial comedian’s career: a comic book from “I Spy,” and the cover of the 1964 album “I Started Out as a Child,” which features fellow comedians Richard Pryor, Red Foxx, Moms Mabley, Dick Gregory, and Godfrey Cambridge.

“Visitors will leave the exhibition knowing more about Mr. Cosby’s impact on American entertainment,” Bunch said, “while recognizing that his legacy has been severely damaged by the recent accusations.


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share

Article topics