The Smithsonian should be ashamed of showing Bill Cosby's art collection
Source:theguardian Author:Jonathan Jones Date: 2015-07-15 Size:
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art feels the need to explain something about its current exhibition, Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue……

Detail of Ethiopia Spirit of Sisterhood, 2000, by Aida Muluneh, part of the Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue exhibition. Photograph: Franko Khoury/National Museum of African Art

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art feels the need to explain something about its current exhibition, Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue. In an extraordinary disclaimer on its website, it tells the world:

“The National Museum of African Art is aware of the recent revelations about Bill Cosby’s behaviour. The museum in no way condones this behaviour. 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.”What an extraordinary public statement for a museum to make. My first reaction was that it was craven and absurd – who would possibly think that in borrowing artworks from a collector, any museum was “condoning” that person?

Then I looked a bit closer.This museum is in Washington DC and I am in London, so no, I haven’t seen the show. But looking at its website, I could immediately see why the National Museum of African Art is on the defensive.

The Cosby family have not just lent art, but also their feelings. Their vision of art is prominent in the show’s online publicity. It is divided into themes and, under each theme, Bill Cosby and members of his family give their views.

“I think this will be a wonderful educational experience, not educational in a boring sense of the word, but, as Elizabeth Catlett once said: ‘Art should wake somebody up.’ We just want people to wake up, and to enjoy themselves while they are awake” – so Camille Cosby, the comedian’s wife, introduces the exhibition.

Bill Cosby – or rather William H Cosby Jnr as the museum formally calls him – enthuses about the Charles White paintings he and Camille have lent: “In Charles White’s portraits, whether you were a man or a woman, he would give you a pair of arms and hands that looked like they could lift a wagon. And, to me, that symbolically stands for our people in the south moving to the north to work, and working, lifting, pulling, washing, cleaning.”

Erika Ranee Cosby, Bill Cosby’s daughter, adds her explanation on one of her own paintings, which is featured in the exhibition, explaining that it is “a visceral interpretation of the persistent and relentless distortion of black imagery in our culture”.

Wait. Art by Bill Cosby’s own daughter is on the walls of this Washington museum, alongside masterpieces of African art?

The National Museum of African Art has a lot more explaining to do. How and why did it come to put on such an exhibition at all, at the time it has?

For, far from being passive lenders to this exhibition, Cosby and his family are very visible in it, as commentators and even as a contributing artist. The museum was spectacularly foolish if it failed to see it was in effect endorsing and “condoning” Cosby. The publicity for the exhibition clearly allows the Cosbys to portray themselves as good citizens, good Americans and, above all, good African Americans. It is, in effect, an argument for the defence: a reminder of Bill Cosby’s work for the arts and passion for African American rights.

Bill Cosby is currently defying allegations by more than 24 women that he drugged and raped them. This is being played out in the media, with the Cosbys, including Camille, using the many platforms available to them to defend her husband.

One thing the National Museum of African Art neglected to mention in its disclaimer is that it has accepted $716, 000 from Bill Cosby.

More than two dozen women are still trying to get their voices heard.

But they do not have art collections or donations to give to a branch of the Smithsonian. This particular way of portraying oneself as an upstanding American is not available to them.

The Smithsonian should be ashamed.

[Editor] 张艳