Smithsonian Distances Itself from Bill Cosby and Rape Charges but Still Wants His Collection

The institution now wants to put the focus on the artists, not the owner.

Museum director Johnetta Cole, Bill Cosby, and his wife, Camille, at the November 2014 opening of "Conversations: African and American Works in Dialogue" at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC.

The release of legal transcripts from 2005, which reveal that Bill Cosby admitted to obtaining quaaludes with the intention of giving them to women, is the latest fallout in the ongoing scandal involving rape allegations against the comedian.

This past November, as rape allegations were rapidly multiplying and negative public sentiment was reaching a crescendo, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art debuted an exhibit titled “Conversations: African and American Artworks in Dialogue,” which runs through January 2016 and joins more than 62 works from the collection of Cosby and his wife, Camille, with an important group of 100 artworks from the museum’s collection.

On July 7, the Smithsonian Institution released a statement indicating that it is keeping the Cosby works in the show.

According to a statement on its website:

“The National Museum of African Art is aware of the recent revelations about Bill Cosby’s behavior. The museum in no way condones this behavior. Our current ‘Conversations’ exhibition, which includes works of African art from our permanent collection and African American art from the collection of Camille and Bill Cosby, is fundamentally about the artworks and the artists who created them, not the owners of the collections.”

The statement continues, “The exhibition brings the public’s attention to African American artists whose works have long been omitted from the study and appreciation of American art.”

On July 7, the Bounce television network, which is geared towards African-American viewers, announced that it was immediately pulling re-runs of the series that followed The Cosby Show, simply named Cosby, which ran from 1996-2000 on CBS and starred Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad. Centric, a BET-owned network, also dropped the show, according to Adweek.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park in Florida confirmed plans to take down a bust of Cosby following the closure of the park on July 7. The move reportedly came in response to a petition circulated by a niece of one of the alleged rape victims.

R&B singer Jill Scott, who Cosby personally thanked via his now much less active Twitter feed, has also withdrawn her support for the disgraced comedian. On July 6, Scott wrote: “Sadly his own testimony offers PROOF of terrible deeds, which is ALL I have ever required to believe the accusations.” Scott conceded that his sworn testimony constitutes proof and said she is “completely disgusted.”

CosbyJillScottTweetResizeMeanwhile, comedian Whoopi Goldberg is still reserving judgment on the situation, noting on television show “The View” on July 7 that Cosby is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

The Cosby loan includes paintings, sculptures, mixed-media and textile works by renowned African-American artists including Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Beauford Delaney, Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold, Henry Ossawa Tanner and Alma Woodsey Thomas. With the exception of one work, the collection had never been loaned or seen publicly before.

Back in November, artnet News reached out to the Smithsonian to ask if they had a reaction based on the charges leveled at Cosby. A representative for the institution sidestepped our questions with this response, which doesn’t even mention Cosby by name:

The museum’s mission is to inspire conversations about the beauty, power and diversity of African arts and cultures worldwide. Exhibiting “Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue” gives us the opportunity to showcase one of the world’s preeminent private collections of African American art, which will help further meaningful dialogue between Africa and the African diaspora.

For related coverage, see:

Should The Smithsonian Address Bill Cosby Rape Allegations

Columbia Student’s Performance Art Catalyzes a Full-Fledged Movement

Columbia Student’s Striking Mattress Performance

Senator Gillibrand Criticized For Inviting Emma Sulkowicz to State of the Union Address

Emma Sulkowicz Brings Mattress to Graduation


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.
Article topics