Smith­so­nian de­fends con­tin­u­ing ex­hibit fea­tur­ing Bill Cosby’s art col­lec­tion


Over the past seven months, as sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions against Bill Cosby mounted, a top Smith­so­nian of­fi­cial met pri­vately with mu­seum di­rec­tors across the sprawl­ing com­plex on the Na­tional Mall to de­cide what to do about an ex­hibit show­cas­ing Cosby's pri­vate art col­lec­tion.

While many com­pa­nies and univer­si­ties were dis­tanc­ing them­selves from the co­me­dian, Smith­so­nian of­fi­cials ul­ti­mately con­cluded the ex­hibit should con­tinue.

“First and fun­da­men­tally, this is an art ex­hibit,” Richard Kurin, the Smith­so­nian's un­der­sec­re­tary for art, history and cul­ture told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “So it's not about the life and ca­reer of Bill Cosby. It's about the artists.”

About a third of the Smith­so­nian's Na­tional Mu­seum of African Art's 50th an­niver­sary ex­hi­bi­tion came from Bill and Camille Cosby's ex­ten­sive African-Amer- ican art col­lec­tion, and twothirds came from the mu­seum's own col­lec­tion.

Most of the Cosby col­lec­tion had never be­fore been seen by the public. It in­cludes paint­ings by one-time slaves, pieces com­mis­sioned for the Cos­bys, a piece by Cosby's daugh­ter and quilts made in trib­ute to Cosby and his slain son, En­nis. The ex­hibit also in­cludes im­ages of Cosby and quo­ta­tions from him.

Even with­out the as­sault al­le­ga­tions, the ex­hibit raised con- cerns. Some crit­ics frown on show­cas­ing a pri­vate col­lec­tion in a prom­i­nent mu­seum be­cause it can en­hance the art­work's mar­ket value. Also, Camille Cosby sits on the mu­seum's board and ini­ti­ated the loan, which raises ques­tions about con­flicts of in­ter­est.

Now the Smith­so­nian has re­vealed to The As­so­ci­ated Press that the Cos­bys also funded the ex­hi­bi­tion with a $716,000 gift, which vir­tu­ally cov­ers the en­tire cost.

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