After last week’s radio silence, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art has released a new statement acknowledging the rape allegations against Bill Cosby. Sixty-two artworks owned by Cosby and his wife, Camille, are the focus of an exhibition currently on view at the museum called Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue.
Whereas last week, the museum refused to mention the accusations against Cosby in any form, yesterday’s statement, published on the museum’s website, does concede their existence:
The National Museum of African Art’s mission is to inspire conversations about the beauty, power and diversity of African arts and cultures. We began planning for the “Conversations” exhibition two years ago to help showcase the history of American art created by persons of African descent. It brings the public’s attention to artists whose works have long been omitted from the study of American art history. We are aware of the controversy surrounding Bill Cosby, who, along with his wife Camille, owns many of the works in the “Conversations” exhibition. Exhibiting this important collection does not imply any position on the serious allegations that have been made against Mr. Cosby. The exhibition is centrally about the artworks and the artists who created them.
Critics including myself, Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott, and CityLabs’ Kriston Capps have argued that a museum exhibition of artworks owned by a living collector, especially when he has not promised those works to the showing institution, is not, in fact, an exhibition centrally about the artworks and the artists who created them (as evidenced by the portrait at the top of this post).