Simmie Knox, "Portrait of Bill and Camille Cosby" (1984), oil on canvas, 243.9 x 198 cm (96 x 78 in), The Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. (photo by David Stansbury, permission courtesy of the artist) (image courtesy the National Museum of African Art)

Simmie Knox, “Portrait of Bill and Camille Cosby” (1984), oil on canvas, 243.9 x 198 cm (96 x 78 in), The Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. (photo by David Stansbury, permission courtesy of the artist) (image courtesy the National Museum of African Art)

Dear Director Johnnetta B. Cole and other staff members of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art,

I am writing to you today with a simple request: take down the pictures of Bill Cosby in your current exhibition Conversations. Remove the portraits of him and the quotes by him, the lines of wall text that make Bill Cosby sound like a kind-hearted family man. Because Bill Cosby, contrary to what the television show had us believe, is not a kind-hearted family man. He is, I believe, a sexual predator and a serial rapist.

I’m not sure if you’ve yet read New York magazine’s cover story this week, in which 35 of the 46 women who’ve publicly alleged that Cosby sexually assaulted them tell their stories. If you haven’t, I urge you to do so immediately. It is a horrifying, excruciating thing to read, but it is necessary. After decades of fear and silence, these women have found the courage to speak. After ignoring the allegations and the rumors swirling around Cosby for years, it’s the very least we can do to listen to them.

What does listening to this testimony mean? I have been crying a lot, that’s one kind of response. But there can and should be, I think, a more active way to listen — a way that signals to these women: ‘Not only do we hear you, but we believe you.’

The way for you to show these women that you believe them — that you “in no way condone Mr. Cosby’s behavior” — is to modify your exhibition of works from the Cosbys’ collection. Now.

I am not the first person to suggest this. Writing in the Atlantic last fall, Kriston Capps suggested that you “offer to strike the Cosbys’ name from the show.” At the time, I wasn’t sure if I agreed, but circumstances have changed. Documents were released that show Cosby himself admitting to procuring Quaaludes in order to give them to women with whom he wanted to sleep. The testimonies of the women in New York magazine show a chillingly clear pattern not just of sexual assault but of planned, purposeful predation.

YouTube video

Bill and Camille Cosby discussing their art collection in a video produced by the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

There has been more news about Conversations, too. The AP reported that the Cosbys funded almost the entire thing — which, when considered alongside the fact that Camille Cosby sits on your board and initiated the loan, does not add up to a very ethically sound show. But fine, the exhibition is up, and you argue that “it is fundamentally about the artworks and the artists who created them, not Mr. Cosby.” This relates to an argument I have heard before, since beginning this public conversation — that it is the artists who will suffer if the show comes down; their work is distinct from the man who, along with his wife, collected it.

Yet from all I’ve read about the show, it seems it is not really exclusively about the artworks and the artists who created them. Washington Post art and architecture critic Philip Kennicott recently revisited Conversations, and on the walls he found more than 40 appearances of Cosby’s name, plus, more broadly, “an exercise in hagiography, full of soft-focus and flattering images of the Cosbys, a painting by their daughter and multiple citations from the couple explaining their love of art.” If we are worrying about the careers and reputations of these artists, well, I don’t think that having their work shown in the context of a glowing picture of Bill Cosby is doing them any favors right now.

In his visit, Kennicott picked up on the patriarchal, “family-friendly” values of the exhibition, writing: “This isn’t about borrowing art from an unsavory rich guy; it’s about hosting an exhibition that celebrates the family life and character … of a married man who by his own admission acquired Quaaludes to give to women he wanted to have sex with.” As partial evidence, Kennicott cites a quote that stood out to me as well when I read through the text on the exhibition’s website (emphasis mine):

The Cosbys commissioned The Family in a tribute to their own family. … The personal importance of family to the collectors cannot be overstated, but the critical mass of images of family and maternity in the Cosby collection speaks to the larger importance of family in the maintenance and transmission of African American culture.

Much of the exhibition text reads like this: flattering, warm and fuzzy, tribute-like. In a Word document included in the press packet, four full paragraphs in a row discuss the importance of quilts to the Cosbys in their valuing of family and kinship. There is the Faith Ringgold piece titled “Camille’s Husband’s Birthday Quilt” (1988), which features images of the Cosby family; there is a quilt made in memory of the Cosbys’ dead son; and there is “a stunning group portrait dedicated to the memory of relatives and important mentors of Bill Cosby’s” by Whitfield Lovell.

Crossroads Quilters, "The Ennis Quilt" (1997), collected scrap fabric, Ennis Cosby’s clothing, 370.8 x 294.8 cm (146 x 116 in), Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. (photo by Jerry Thompson)

Crossroads Quilters, “The Ennis Quilt” (1997), collected scrap fabric, Ennis Cosby’s clothing, 370.8 x 294.8 cm (146 x 116 in), Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr. (photo by Jerry Thompson)

“The importance of remembering and honoring family in visual form is a strand that runs through the Cosby collection,” the exhibition text says. Compare those words with this testimony from Barbara Bowman, published in New York magazine:

It was a predatory grooming process that was very subtle and very manipulative. He was America’s favorite dad. I went into this thinking he was going to be my dad. He zoned right in on my insecurities. He convinced me that he was going to take care of me like a father, that he loved me like a daughter. To wake up half-dressed and raped by the man that said he was going to love me like a father? That’s pretty sick.

Hopefully by now you can see the problem.

Look, I understand that this is complicated. No one — least of all people who collect art! — is flawless, and countless artists, creators, and others have committed horrible deeds. But it’s one thing to have a name in small print on a wall label indicating the source of a loan; another to have that name included in the exhibition’s subtitle and plastered on the walls waxing profound about the art (and spelled out formally as if he were a different, more distinguished person: William H. Cosby Jr.). It’s one thing to continue to engage with the art of a creator who was also a rapist; another to continue lauding him as a visionary man who collects important art and through that process upholds “family values.”

In good faith, I’ll leave aside the issue of whether this show should have ever been organized in the first place, as well as the problem of it including art by the Cosbys’ daughter (another clear indication of the questionable ethics at work here, as if we needed more). The exhibition is on the walls, and hopefully someone will gain some educational benefit from it to make it worthwhile. In the meantime, you have six months left to do something. Six months in which to make a statement, to tell the 46 women — and the likely more who haven’t come forward — that you believe them, by stripping the show of its hagiography and pushing it to a sounder place. (And if the Cosbys object, if they pull out? Well, that says all we need to know, doesn’t it?) Six months left to demonstrate that morals can still be more important than money and celebrity, even a little bit, even in the art world.


Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

107 replies on “An Open Letter to the National Museum of African Art Regarding Bill Cosby”

  1. I’d like to add that aside from the stunning hypocrisy both Mr. and Mrs. Cosby have demonstrated in their pathetic attempt to play dumb to these revelations, I would under normal circumstances judge collectors using purchased art to aggrandize their reputations as parasites, feeding in this instance off the reputation of both the institution and the artists. Using a collection of great work to boost your reputation implies there is something wrong with your reputation. Now we know. Henry Frick has met his match.

      1. Perhaps I should have been more precise. I was not disparaging the Frick in its current institutional state. I was commenting on Mr.Henry Clay Frick himself, who was a reprehensible, greedy and utterly despicable human being who hid behind an art collection.

  2. This is measured, respectful, and I think entirely persuasive. I hope the Smithsonian acts on this. If they do, don’t be surprised, though, if the wall text stays. Here’s why.

    It is not feasible to remove vinyl wall text, or even stuck-on paper print outs, without damaging the walls’ surface. To repair the surface requires patching, sanding, and repainting, and that is never done with art on the wall (or even in the room). In other words, and I say this as someone who’s installed museum exhibitions myself, the text can’t go anywhere unless the entire show is deinstalled (then reinstalled), which would take a about a month and tens of thousands of dollars. Removing the Cosby portrait would be right and let’s hope they do. But don’t be disappointed if the wall text stays. You will have actually won.

    1. The Whitney had two incidents of spontaneous art painted on the walls of the recent Koons retrospective. In both cases the guerrilla art was removed and cleaned up without de-installing the show. Art and exhibition insurance routinely addresses such contingencies. And if there is an awkward space or adhesive scar left on the wall, a small card can be placed stating the reason. Writing the text for those cards ought to be the responsibility of the trustees who put their institution’s reputation in jeopardy by allowing a collector to bully them into a bad deal.

      1. Spray paint does not damage wall surfaces. The only challenge to covering it is blending the fresh wet paint with the existing wall color so it doesn’t leave a large splotch. That isn’t easy, but can be done with patience and good technique. The vandal at the Whitney sprayed a wall with no art on it. Painting over that with a roller, even the whole wall, would only take a couple hours at most.

        Taking off vinyl text and adhesives for mounted panels and such tears off wall paint and sometimes a bit of sheetrock. Sometimes the vinyl has to be scraped or sanded off. The wall scars can’t be painted over without patching, because the surface must be even. Then comes sanding. Those patched and sanded areas can’t be spot painted individually because it will create obvious splotchiness and turn the wall into one large abstract painting.

        Wall prep work can’t be done with art in the room because of sheetrock dust, wet paint, men on ladders using droppable hand tools, equipment being rolled around, and so forth. So it must be deinstalled and removed and stored. Logistically, that’s just not going to happen here. From what we are reading, there is a lot of Cosby-related text, enough to be offensive, which means there’d be a lot of professional prep work and time to make those walls museum quality and text free. I doubt anyone wants to see anything related to Bill Cosby written on a wall, but that’s the way it is until the art is deinstalled and removed from the rooms.

        That’s all I have to say about this. (If this doesn’t make sense, take 500 pieces of duct tape and stick them firmly all over your home’s walls in random places. Then go back and peel the pieces off and see how that goes.)

    2. Although you are correct — I’ve installed and struck exhibitions as well, some sort of covering may work (although as I write this I am realizing that a wall covering would actually cause viewers to look under the cover). Anyway, some sort of gesture, removing the portrait, would be a positive first step.

  3. That video was so indicative of how narcissistic they BOTH are! They just want to hear themselves talk. And what was that, that the serial rapist said at the end, “It’s to me, a way to say to people this is what exists and many of these artists will speak no more.” Well, I’d hardly call him an artist, (more like a paid Hollywood whore) but I find that last statement very ironic being that he hasn’t said a word about the 50 women who have accused him of drugging and raping them. The biggest piece of work in that room was those two cons.

    1. I think it would be powerful if artists were commissioned to create works around the alleged victims and have them shown in conjunction with the Cosby exhibit. Together it can show the complexities of great talent, adoration, corruption, etc. as well as address the power of the enigmas we are able to build.

  4. I support (co-sign) this letter. Just do what she suggests National Museum of African Art. Do the right thing.

  5. It is very sad that the good Mr. Cosby did offer, bridging Blacks and Whites together, as well as the careers of all those who worked with him have now been destroyed and will forever be overshadowed by his secret life. The painting must come down and let this be a warning to others who engage in similar activities of raping people emotionally, physically, financially and psychologically, your behavior is no longer tolerated. Society will not allow you to hide behind personas and manipulate power and control to hoard resources unearned. Stop it now or suffer the same consequences.

  6. It’s grand time we look at all things in perspective and not white (or black) wash history.
    Yes, Hitler deserved to die a fiery death, but he was (not a good one, but) an artist.
    Cosby’s oasis of no-expetives, no-N-word comedy entertained me for decades till I found out what a fuck he was.
    Keep the pictures up with an explanation on the same wall.
    Explain nepotism also and museum dirty practices.

  7. We have had articles on Hyperallergic about the Confederate Flag, Mike Brown’s murder by a racist white KKKop… but I saw no letter to the President Obama or The Justice Department, or Governor of Georgia, etc. asking them to crack down on State Sponsored murder and Terrorism of Black Americans by taking the down the Confederate Flag and affilliated monuments from ALL Federal and State properties. Where is the letter from Ms. Steinhaur asking that the Confederate flag be removed after the terrorism and slaughter in Charleston? Where is the outrage from White AmeriKKKa?…Now dont get me wrong I am not here to defend Bill Cosby, because he is obviously a scumbag and I hate scumbags, especially two-face petty bourgoise black hypocrites…there is a special place in hell reserved for these lowlife N….gers. People like Clarence Thomas, Bill Cosby who lecture their poor and downttrodden black brothers and sisters who are in a daily struggle to keep their heads above the water of racist AmeriKKKa- to have these misfits lecture black America about morals and values to curry favour with our white enemies, while engaging in morally depraved acts privately is hard to stomach in Black America.

    I see all the posters below expressing outrage ..but I am wondering if they would express the same outrage if was a white star been exposed… where is the call for all images of Maggie Thatcher to be pulled down across AmeriKKKa..she is revered by white Conservatives and I am sure there are portraits of her all over White AmeriKKKa.. Now that she has been exposed as protector and even ringleader of a pedophile ring consisting of very top British political and security establishment who raped and in some case murdered children at sex orgies… where is the call for Ronnie Raygun’s pal to be removed from public and even private art galleries?.. Like the Tom Brady scandal, it seems that white AmeriKKKa is very selective about its outrage…if it was a black QB that brought the game into disrepute like that… White AmeriKKKa would be howling for dat N…ga’s head on a platter..But with good ole Tommy boy well its the NFL and Goodell making much ado about nothing!. Black people have seen this movie before so we have to wonder what the TRUE motive is?. If Cosby had just raped black women, would miss Steinhaur and her Jewish friends at the New Yorker even care?

    1. Why are you invoking Jewish stereotypes in that anti-Semitic last line? I don’t get it. I understand your concerns about when black men are publicly attacked. It invokes an entire history of African American men being called out and punished when white men get away with the same things. That said, I think Woody Allen has gotten hell for what he allegedly did. There is a ton of work left to be done to heal racial tensions. But anti-Semitic comments are not the way to get there. Also, Jillian has a lot of friends, like me, who aren’t Jewish. Jillian deserves to be judged by the content of her character instead of the color of her skin or the ethnicity of her ancestors.

      1. I am not invoking Jewish stereotypes I am asking a straight forward non -politically correct question. People like Ms. Steinhaur have a long history of demonizing Black people..they escaped the ovens of Auschwitz to come to white AmeriKKKa and create Hollywood creating caricatures and images of black people thus doing more harm to black people than the KKK. These are legitimate questions…the New York Magazine and Jew controlled media in in New York has a long history of going after black forgive me if I dont drink their kool-aid. Also I see you had nothing to say about The Wicked Witch of the West ..Maggie Thatcher..if you think Cosby was bad just read up on what Maggie and the British elite did 30- 40 years ago around the same time that Cosby was hanging with Hugh Hefner and they were ALL drugging women…and dont get me started on Woody Allen the degenerate..when is New York Magazine going to do an expose on one of their own Jew Yorker, I mean New Yorker?

        1. Some of your points are good. Much of your rhetoric is purposely offensive. I find it too convenient that your more emotional and incendiary comments are signed along with the more sound parts of your argument with the equivalent of a bed-sheet over your head. “Black Messiah”, really?? Put your name on your rants.It does wonders for introspection and civilized argument.

          1. Hey Buddy ..just straight talk ..its about time white AmeriKKKa hears the unvarnished TRUTH. After the way President Obama has been treated by White AmeriKKKa..the contempt, the sabotage, the disrepect… the every day cold blooded murdering of our people by white KKKops with full support of White AmeriKKKa… the gloves are off now more diplomatic niceties!!

          2. Having missed my point entirely, which is that straight talk cannot emanate from a behind mask, I repeat…your comments are anonymous, and therefore predictably lacking in consistency. What’s straight about “I am not invoking Jewish stereotypes” followed in the same paragraph by “…Jew Yorker…” If you think Cosby is getting a bum rap, explain why. Stick to the topic. Its not that your comments about how the President has been treated by certain marginal groups are wrong, it is that you assume that anyone who disagrees with you about Cosby must be part of those groups. Grow up, change your online name to your real identity and join the give and take of an important conversation. Or continue to make a fool of yourself.

          3. I am black man in AmeriKKKa I have to be concerned about expressing my “straight talk” thoughts because White AmerIKKKa has a long history of going after black people for there words and thoughts , thus the anonymity, do i need to explain that to you? . Black people have NEVER been able to speak freely, not even the black President of the United States can speak freely..well maybe now as he going out the door he can sort of speak semi-freely. Like Richard Pryor said .”.In AmeriKKKa you have ALL the Freedom in the you keep your f..cking mouth shut”. well its even more so for black folks homie!

            Granted it was a bit of a contradiction re: my statement “not invoking Jewish stereotypes and using the phrase “Jew Yorker” however I was trying to make a larger point that I will say what ever I dam well please while exposing the hypocrisy of those who control the media in AmeriKKKa ( especially New York, the media capital of White AmeriKKKa.

            This is a free-wheeling conversatiion and I will determine what the topic is….I am free like you to inject what ever I feel is relevant to make my point, there is not a set topic that one cant expanded upon to make a larger point.. .

            Treated by certain marginal groups?? you cal the white supremacists RepubliKKKan Party who control The House and Senate a marginal group? You call The Tea Party a marginal group? You call Donald Trump a marginal figure in White AmeriKKKa.well tell that to the Pollsters and Faux News…

            Yes and I have good reason to assume that the people going after Cosby is the same people who are going after Obama, because these are same people who have nothing to say when black people are actually murdered in cold blood by white KKKops, but yet want to start a petition against an old fart like Bill Cosby for some thing he did 30-40 years ago, there are injustices happening right now under their nose in NYC and AmerIKKKa but they are not outraged enough about it to write a single word about makes me wonder what there REAL motivation is.. As a black man its only natural for me to raise the issue given white AmeriKKKa’s issue. You remember White and Jewish New York crying for the blood of the Central Park 5? Donald Trump and the white NYC elites wanted them lynch in Central Park .. Thank God for DNA testing and confession from the Killer. NYC has a long history of carrying out Pogroms and mass murder of black people : see the Irish Riots of 1863 and Jewish, Irish, and Italian Mafia control of Harlem and the city as a whole. Wall Street was also the center of the slave we are skeptical about ANY THING said about black people that comes from the white elites of NYC.

            I am ALL grown up old chap… and I am fine with my moniker for now.. I am participating in an important conversation and I am expressing my self the way I want to express my self and you can keep your little lectures to you self..if you dont like how I express my self dont read my posts.. as for me making a fool of my self…. beauty is in the eye of the man’s terrorist is another man’s Freedom Fighter so don’t even go there homie!!

          4. There are serious problems in this country. Your hysterical rants are part of it. I suggested you claimed not to use ethnic slurs, then you used one (several actually) then explained that you will say what you “dam please”. That’s the voice of an idiot. I will no longer lecture you. You’re not worth it.

          1. I am a black man and the real Jews are black ( Falashas of Ethiopia) How can I be ant-Jewish?. Yeah the same black Jews that was injected with drugs Mengele style after landing in Israel… so the women can not reproduced. The same black Jews that had their donated blood dumped into the sewers of Israel a few years ago.. and you call me anti- semite?. By the way your people are from Europe and Eurasia you are not a semetic people..stop peddling lies and disinformation..its bad enough you hijack Judaism – the black man’s religion. Nah I wouldn’t hang with Fuck- Abee ..he seems to be a better fit for you and more in line with your warped thinking.

          2. Why bother to defend The TRUTH.. Ask Wolf Blitzer and thousand of other mouth pieces on US TV where there heart lies.. its like they get a memo and talking points from Tel Aviv every morning. You guys must think people are stupid.. stop trying to insult people intelligence..we have eyes and ears we can see what is happening around us.

        1. It seems to me that the person styling himself as a messiah is an equal opportunity racist. ‘White amerikkka’ is hardly a measured characterization. It always puzzles me how people so alert to the supposed racism of others are so blind to it in themselves.

          1. White AmeriKKKa in my opinion and based on MY lived experience is made up of the 70-80% of white Americans who thinks America belongs to them and would be happy to have black people enslaved again. Its about the aggregate number/percentage who voted against President Obama.

            I make no apologies for my africentricity.. after fighting and resisting white terrorism, racism, and supremacy for the past 600 years, if you want to compare the white man’s victims resistance to white racism as equal to the white man’s racism go ahead and knock yourself out. But I see my self in the vein of other great black Freedom Fighters like Yoshua ( Jesus Christ) Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Mandela, Steven Biko. Henri Christoff …..just so you know home girl!!

    2. Maggie Thatcher is a white star? No, her last movie sucked. Career’s over. So’s yours as a commenter, with that last crack about Jews. STFU

      1. Yeah Maggie Thatcher was a racist white political star who is still revered by white- wing AmeriKKKans ….I see you are not up on things… I dont give a rats @$$ what you think. I am black man who says what he thinks and i call it as I see it.. Jews may control AmeriKKKa but they dont control the world Thank god.

        1. No sh*t, Sherlock. And she’s been dead, what, 2 years? Stamping your feet on the grave of a dead bigot is very helpful — in giving you the illusion that you are actually doing something. A white racist is currently leading the Republican presidential polling. Pay attention to that, fool.

          1. But Maggie and her pals victims are still alive and wondering where the hell is Justice?? … OH I see statute of limitations is only for dead people..You and your possee will only go after people if they are alive because the Staute of Limitaions does not apply to them…ok now I get it Ms. Einstein.

            I hear you about Donald Trump.. Maybe Ms. Steinhaur and her Manhatten Matrons possee should be investing their energy and time in going after the German Trump!!!

    3. There have been protests and calls for The Met to return funds to the Koch Brothers and reject their sponsorship. Their acts weren’t even technically criminal. So the outrage is certainly there unless you choose to ignore it.

      1. Whats worse.. some groupies getting raped by Cosby or having DEMOCRACY and your Country hijacked by some shadowy rich crypto Nazi’s called the Koch Brothers? .. I say in the scheme of things the Koch’s are greater threat to America than the Cosby giving the high hard one to some women/groupies he happened to drug..but hey what da hell do I know !!

  8. Cosby may very well be a reprehensible human being, or led a life with some reprehensible aspects. Nevertheless, art critics, on principle, should not be calling for art to be removed from public display for moral reasons.

    The author’s objections are substantive. But there’s a long way between voicing objections, which appropriate for a critic to do, and demanding that offending art be taken off display, which is how a censor would act on her objections. People who care about art ought to live in fear of verging into the latter territory. I’m not referring to censorship in the legal sense, but in the eagerness to deprive the rest of the viewing audience of the opportunity to come to its own conclusions about the exhibition and the work therein. I should hope that people agree that the revelations about Cosby introduce serious problems regarding some of these pieces, but respect for other peoples’ freedom of conscience disinclines me to decide for them.

    As I’ve written elsewhere, the health of the marketplace of ideas is of vital importance to art. That means a continual open invitation to further judgment, which is impossible if Steinhauer gets her way and the work comes down. Censors have no business being critics and vice-versa. We ought to be clear about what each of those roles mean.

    1. AMEN sir.. could not have articulated any better.. maybe Steinhaur should start a campaign to remove images of NetanYahoo because he has outrageously disrespected our black president…..Nahhhhhhhhhhhhh…. I dont think she has time for that type of activism and outrage!!

      1. Now there’s a non-sequitur passing as a thought. Apples and oranges make for a crappy salad.

        1. Not if you like salads with apple and oranges in it… you make your salad I will make mine!!

    2. I’d agree with you up to a point but we’re not talking about removing controversial art but removing a patron’s name and image. I don’t believe that falls under censorship. If the portrait was the centrepiece of the show, that would be a more complicated situation. But removing the portrait has no effect on an audience drawing conclusions. The show isn’t about Cosby or his portrait. He funded the show and as the patron they flattered him with a display of a rather mediocre portrait. No great loss.

      1. Steinhauer: take down the pictures of Bill Cosby in your current exhibition Conversations. Remove the portraits of him and the quotes by him.

        Pictures, plural. Portraits, plural. Quotes, plural. But the number of objects or their centrality isn’t the issue. This demand that a public museum take works off of display would be unacceptable for any reason I can think of. This particular rationale, that they should be removed for portraying Cosby in a manner belied by the New York expose, is especially flimsy. You say taking down the work would have no effect on the audience drawing conclusions, but it can’t draw conclusions about work it can’t see.

      2. I could not agree more. The portrait quality resembles an attempt made by an “independent study” high school artist.

    3. While I understand the basis of your argument I feel like you’re soft-shoeing on the issue. First, we’re talking about criminal, not just moral reasons. Nobody wants the works taken down because he cheated on his wife. It’s because if half the allegations are true he is one of the great serial rapists of modern history. And the pieces function as PR as much as art. These are ads for the man and his image, and therefore less deserving of protection as works of art.

      1. It’s one thing for pseudonyms on the Internet to proclaim Cosby’s guilt and another for Steinhauer and me to do it, which is why she stops short of doing so and so do I. We are dealing with moral reasons. Steinhauer is exhorting the museum to a moral performance, to demonstrate that it is listening to the accusers by removing particular works from the show. The only reason the presence of the work equates to disbelief of the accusers is because Steinhauer set up the equation, not because one has anything to do with the other. The whole rationale is bogus. But even if it weren’t bogus, Steinhauer would still be demanding that art be taken down from public display and that alone is cause for serious concern. People who value the exchange of ideas don’t try to make such exchanges impossible, and people who don’t have no business being art critics.

        A third of US museum shows hail from five galleries and all of them are a PR effort for someone. The stuff for better or worse is in the museum, and thus is at least nominally art, and thus we who care about art ought to be defending its display as a matter of principle. That the work is bad or in the collection of a convincingly alleged dirtbag is unfortunate, but the idea that we ought to demand its removal because we object to it is completely unacceptable.

        1. I didn’t equate the work with not believing the accusers. Cosby admitted to the criminal behavior that the 3 dozen accusers alleged in an official deposition so you can exist in a kind of “did he, didn’t he” limbo but anyone looking at the facts is beyond that. The work is PR for a criminal protected only by the statute of limitations.

          “A third of US museum shows hail from five galleries and all of them are a PR effort for someone.” Private criminal donors subsidizing shows in praise of themselves is not the same as a gallery, however successful, promoting their artists. And it’s art because you put it in a museum? So are you ok with Coca Cola putting a billboard in a museum because it would automatically become art and no longer be an ad? How about BP paying to display some pieces about how the gulf oil spill wasn’t really that bad?

          1. If you want to call Cosby a criminal and sign your name to it in a manner that the Cosby legal team can trace to your home address, be my guest.

            And you don’t have to stretch to these absurd examples about Coca-Cola and BP. I saw Tim Burton at MoMA and thought that was baloney. People felt the same way about the Bjork show. That was all PR for people who didn’t need it and of dubious artistic value. I wouldn’t call for individual works to be censored out of the museum in those cases either.

            I have elaborated on my concerns here.

          2. If you don’t see the difference between shows for two accomplished artists (your opinion not withstanding) and a show that lauds a criminal donor, we’re not going to get anywhere. Burton and Bjork did not pay the museum for their shows.

          3. I see it, but if you think that distinction somehow makes the removal of works from an exhibition something other than an act of censorship then you don’t understand my objection. This would still be an act of censorship even if Cosby were found to be a criminal in the proper sense, as distinct from the sense in which you’re using the word, repeatedly, from behind a pseudonym. As I say at the link other responses are possible that don’t establish ugly precedents for when the shoe goes on the other foot.

          4. My primary point is that you shouldn’t be able to buy space on museum walls. The fact that the work serves to counter his image as a serial rapist is secondary – it makes the compromising of the museum’s integrity even worse, but my point stands without that angle. If you hung any ad in a museum I would want it taken down. It’s not censorship. It’s an assertion that we want museums to curate works of art – not outsource curation to donors. The Koch brothers got their name on a fountain outside The Met – they don’t get an exhibit inside with works created to sell us on what swell guys they are.
            My anonymity also has zero to do with the discussion.

          5. My primary point is that you shouldn’t be able to buy space on museum walls.

            This is a legitimate claim. But that would have meant nixing this whole thing from the beginning, not making dubious, ineffectual deletions in the middle of it. And in fact we’re not talking about advertisements for a criminal, we’re talking about art that you feel is tantamount to advertisement for someone you feel is tantamount to a criminal. Feelings are not the stuff of policy, Steinhauer’s no more than yours.

          6. I made it already: art critics should not be calling for art to be removed from public display.

          7. So they can’t be of the opinion that it never belonged there in the first place. Once it’s up, it’s art and fully protected. Ads, PR, whatever. All art.

          8. So they can’t be of the opinion that it never belonged there in the first place.

            You said that, not me.

            Once it’s up, it’s art and fully protected. Ads, PR, whatever. All art.

            That I said. It’s speech, and aside from the supreme legal protections we afford to speech, there are moral reasons that artists and writers ought to value expression for its own sake. Condemnation may very well be called for here. Suppression, no. Never.

          9. Your view only works if curators and Museum boards are infallible. They’re not. They’re susceptible to influence (painfully clear in this case). In our society, if a decision is found to be compromised by undue influence we can revisit it. If a museum mistakenly hangs something that doesn’t meet the standards of art – like the paid for messages in this exhibit, anyone is within their rights to not only disapprove but call for it to be taken down. You look at it case by case. If we can revisit decisions made by our courts when influence is revealed, we can revisit decisions made by museums.

          10. Let’s be clear about something: Steinhauer is absolutely within her rights to call for this work to be taken down. Nevertheless, it would be an act of censorship if they did so. Consequently there are moral reasons not to make that request and legal reasons why the museum is free to respond to Steinhauer by telling her to jump off a pier.

            This “doesn’t meet the standards of art”? According to whom, you? Ninety percent of what I see doesn’t meet my standards of art, and I don’t go around requesting that it all be taken down. For that matter I find this open letter of Steinhauer’s offensive and I’m not asking Hyperallergic to pull the post. That would be completely inappropriate and if someone else were demanding that, I would stand in the way.

          11. But if you found that Steinhauer or Hyperallergic were being paid by a third party to depict the NMAA in a certain light, would you defend it? It ceases to be an “article” and is now an ad, right? It should be labeled an advertisement or taken down. Museums don’t exist to craft exhibits that portray their donors in a flattering light (again, especially when that donor is under investigation). I define art as not being a paid advertisement or PR job – the lowest possible bar for the definition of art.

          12. It should be labeled an advertisement or taken down.

            It should be labeled an advertisement. “An earlier version of this essay failed to disclose that it was paid for by the museum under discussion and Hyperallergic regrets the lapse of judgment.” This is the standard practice when articles are found to be faulty in some way, because if you remove them or edit them without comment, you’re scrubbing evidence and interfering with future readers forming their own opinions.

            At my blog post I’ve already suggested the addition of apologetic labelling to be added to the show in light of the new revelations about Cosby.

  9. i second this! or by now, i 16th or 17th it. not like there aren’t thousands of other art pieces, artists, and themes ready to exhibit.

  10. You gonna join #BlackLivesMatter and fight for REAL justice in AmeriKKKa for those murdered by racist white KKKops??……well isn’t that speciallllllllllllllll!!….what ‘s worse been murdered by racist agents of the State or been drugged and fooked??

  11. Correction.. below I meant to say New York Magazine ..Not The New YorkerMagazine…although I also have my issues with the New Yorker.

  12. Beautifully stated. Thank you for such a thoughtful essay. I hope this reaches the eyes of Mr. Cole and that he and the board of directors have the courage to change the focus of the show back to the artists and away from the Cosbys.

  13. Can someone create a petition to get the ball rolling? We can fix this problem. Does a petition already exist?

  14. Along with Franklin, I’m troubled by the call to remove a work of art from a public exhibition. Instead, why not ask that the museum *add* one or more works of art that address your concerns? Or print up leaflets and scatter them around the exhibit where people will see them?

  15. One thing that creeps me out about the quilt is the fact that one of the squares say “I am in command here and now”…. and another square says “what part of no do you not understand” It says it was a quilt made for his son but how creepy is that? Everything about Bill Cosby creeps me out now.

  16. Fully in agreement. If art is about what makes us human, then why is it considered “censorship” when a show needs to be altered in order to uphold humanity and reject patriarchal, violent behavior? Especially in the context of a ethically blurry setup and financing of an exhibit. I don’t care if that’s not how the official art world does things. Down with the old structures that excuse inhumanity, injustice and oppression in the name of “art”. They obscure and demean what art is for.

    1. Actually lots of people did (just google it), but the scale between Woody Allen’s reputedly sexual violence and Bill Cosby’s is not the same, particularly since Allen’s reputed victim does not want to press charges.

      1. One could make an argument that Wood”y engaged in was a hell of lot sicker than what Cosby did. Keep in mind Woody molested his own daughter and God knows what hell he has done that has not come out because his homies in the media has covered it or simply has not investigated it. Keep in mind Cosby was dealing with grown ass women and groupies who willingly put themselves in that position.. when a Movie or Rock Star invites you up to his room ..what the hell do you think he wants from you?? Especially in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s.. get real folks!!

        1. Um, for example, one of them was a young journalist excited at the chance of interviewing the great Cosby. She wasn’t there to have sex with him. He asked her to walk-and-talk the interview. Then he freaking drugged her with the drink he offered her and raped her unconscious body.

          So, I understand you’re trying to make a point, but please refrain from blaming Cosby’s victims for his crimes. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

          1. Look I am not going to defend Cosby actions because how ever it happened it was bloody well sick and despicable-most of all to me as a proud black man he has brought shame and disgrace to the black race. Like Jesse Jackson he was saying one thing publicly and doing the opposite privately, I cant stand hypocrites, especially black hypocrites who undermine our cause and give ammunition to our enemies. That’s all I have to say on this subject

          2. Bill Cosby’s actions don’t define other black people and if you feel shame, that’s great if its really somehow a show of compassion for the accusers and victims. I am not ashamed because Bill Cosby is accused of being a serial rapist. Those are his actions and define only him and possibly his wife.

        2. One COULD make that argument, and one would still be a mess.

          Yes, Cosby was dealing with grown women. All of whom he DRUGGED AND RAPED.

          A few of the women were out in public restaurants having dinner with him and others when they ‘fell ill’ and came to in his hotel room, or home, having been raped. Is that their fault for not thinking, “Hey, a man wants to have dinner with me in a public place. I bet he’s trying to drug and rape me!”

          Get real Black Messiah.

      2. I GUARANTEE you the child victim of incest (you seem to imply that is a NON-VIOLENT act) is far more disturbed and traumatized than any of Bill Cosby’s accusers.

        1. Glad you made up your own reality but I never said that and wouldn’t. Also, a child and a teenager are not the same thing. Please don’t assume anything about me.

          1. ok you got no argument. what you did say: ” the scale between Woody Allen’s reputedly sexual violence and Bill Cosby’s is not the same.” To that, Correct Woody’s offense is greater, I still say that the child victim of incest has experienced a greater dose of violence/trauma. I doubt Woody’s victim isn’t pressing charges because her trauma was minimal and not worthy any indictment or trial. Please don’t tell me to google anything.

    2. well said… and now they are actually rewarding kiddy-porn-Woody even further by giving him a museum in Barcelona, Spain. People choose their own devils to adore – it’s always been like that!

      1. Pete Townsend of the Rock Band The WHO was caught redhanded in a massive kiddie porn and pedophile ring in the UK a few years ago. ONLY God knows how many kids he and his fellow pedophile has buggerred and raped. You know the Europeans are famous for their sexual perversions. the Brits Navy conquered the world based on Sodomy and Rum.The Brits Establishment covered it up and I dont think he was even charged… But they went after Michael Jackson with hammer and tongs based on just hear say..hell they actually caught Townsend with the Kiddie Porn and nothing came of it……strange and unjust world we live in.

        1. there is no doubt a double standard when it comes to black and white people, as white people often don’t think of their action as wholly wrong when it is wrong, but a mental breakdown of some sort, stemming from past abuse of some sort. It’s doubtless if the alleged victims in question were black this hoopla would have persisted so long. Black lives are not put on the same pedestal as white lives, and that’s a fact. I have worked in the movie biz for several years and am aware of the party atmosphere that takes place there. Most of the girls (and guys) who enter the industry have one intention, and that is to make it to the top – by whichever means available. People are usually very drunk at parties, and no one seem to care about any of their actions (who they are with or what they are drinking) until they wake in the morning – or several days later. And, the same thing happens at nite clubs too. People take on this attitude of self-righteousness sometimes for an event that takes place in the media, that it makes you wonder why the world is rapidly sliding in a mess, if they actually were that righteous inside! Surprisingly, it’s usually the first ones throwing the stones who have hideous things in their closets hiding!

    3. Amen! .. they know who to go after– and its NEVER their own perverts and degenerates.

      1. Really? So why is Roman Polanski not allowed back in the States? Because no one went after him? What about Steven Collins? Man couldn’t get a job now even as a dish washer.

        1. Polanski is in exile I think. He refuses to come back he’s not banned. The US tried to extradite him from Switzerland.

    4. People, many people, HAVE asked to have Woody Allens awards revoked. Also, Roman Polanski’s. Just because their scandals happened years, even decades, ago, doesn’t mean there weren’t consequences.

      Are you saying that because YOU feel the consequences for Woody Allen weren’t harsh enough, – they weren’t -, this means we should back off a serial rapist? Makes no sense.

      1. no, i never mentioned punishment. you did. you are saying that. so maybe YOU aren’t making any sense to me. woody allen forcing his daughter (not his adopted daughter-wife) to have sex is rape, incestuous even. It may even have been serial. Consequences? The only consquences on my mind are the trauma experienced by the victim/accusers. None of Bill’s accuser/victims were children when attacked.

  17. Earlier this year an Adolf Hitler watercolor sold for nearly 30K€! Get a relevant perspective.

    1. How come Ms. Steinhaur and her possee did not go after the gallery who sold the Hitler watercolor and the collector who bought it? ..Maybe because one of her friends in Tel Aviv bought it?..Hitler had a lot Jewish financiers when he started.. He even created Jewish SS battalions… there was a lot of love for Hitler……until he turned on THEM!!..We see the same thing been played out in AmeriKKKa with Sheldon Adelson and NetanYahoo led alliance and support of The RepubliKKKan Party…some people never learn and history always repeat it self when moral positions are based on political calculations and mob expediency, rather than core value and principles!

  18. While Cosby has been and will always be despicable to our moral senses, I question jumping on a bandwagon to railroad art. Perhaps the younger generation has not learned to separate creativity from moral turpitude; consider Mapplethorpe and others who have presented what is considered objectionable to the masses.
    That said, perhaps the image of Cosby was not there as a work of art; ha! Consider that it was originally placed for all the wrong reasons. Ask yourself why a major institution would do such a thing – pandering? How many other works that are questionable, works that would easily be considered questionable if the public knew more of the subject or artist than what might be deemed acceptable.
    This gets into the actions of Hitler – so I would simply stop right now and consider instead of trying to start a lynch mob on ??? I doubt that it is even art other than so-called conceptual art.

    1. “How many other works that are questionable, works that would easily be considered questionable if the public knew more of the subject or artist than what might be deemed acceptable.” This gets into the actions of Hitler

      AMEN!! Hitler went after Jewish art and intellectuals because he thought they were degenerates who was not worthy of his Aryan master race nonsense.

      Winston Churchill was a Certified Racists who refferred to Black people as Kaffirs and backed the Nazi supporting Apartheid regime when it was established in South Africa, proclaimng the white racists is “Our kith and kin”. But prior to President Obama occupying the Oval Office there was a revered bust of Churchill in the Oval office which all the previous white presidents found just peachy and were extremely fond off. President Obama had it removed, because he knows the history of that degenerate racist and drunkard. There are public statues and portrait of Churchill all over the British Commonwealth lionizing this racists, but white people dont care, he was racists against blacksand non-whites, that’s no reason NOT to celebrate him. Bill Cosby ( along with Hugh Hefner and their buddies) is a scumbag who drugged some women and in some case groupies and had sex with them. He is 80 years old, why bother go after the 1 or 2 African-American art institutions he collaborated with to drag them into this mess.

      Ms. Steinhaur and her ilk seems to be very selective who they go after. She lives in a city and country that is rife with injustice and anti-black racism but she is blind to that- in her mind going after Bill Cosby and African art Museum is the most pressing of concerns. As a black man who thinks Cosby is bloody hypocrite and Uncle Tom, I have to wonder what her true motivations are. After ALL AshkeNazi and Sephardim Jews are not exactly famous for their love of Black People..You ever seen a black person in a Woody Allen Movie?!… Or Just ask Steinfeld about black folks and if they exists in his Jewish world. Our Jewish friends have a short memory when it comes to the pain of others, seemingly they only remember their pain.

  19. Cosby is the one of the worst serial rapists ever exposed… having a show of his art, a show meant to make him look kind and intelligent is offensive. And asking that the show be altered is not censorship. And don’t give me “he was never convicted of a crime.”

  20. all hoopla about nothing! It’s actually a really great portrait of the couple by this artist, and which will be worth alot of money in the years ahead — just after the self-righteous masses have cast their last stones! Congrats to the talented artist!

  21. Dear Smithsonian,

    Please remove this art so that stupid, unsophisticated, improperly educated people will not be fooled into thinking that Bill Cosby is a really great person after all.

  22. How much SHEIT are you people gonna eat when you find out that Mr. Cosby is NOT a serial rapist or a predator, but the victim of a extensive extortion ring that aims to destroy the one BLACK man that was DAMN good, better than most, at his work.

  23. Damn the museum hasn’t opened yet and already a white person is making suggestions on what should or should not be within it ? Smh

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