Public divided over Smithsonian’s Cosby art

23 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Public Emails to the Smithsonian Call Its Cosby Show Disgusting and Pathetic.

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Smithsonian Institution continues to stand behind an exhibition featuring Bill Cosby’s art collection, the public has begun weighing in and appears to be sharply divided over the display, based on dozens of emails and comments left at the museum. Judging by e-mails and comment book messages, opinions vary among the public on the Smithsonian’s decision to stand by a show including art from the collection of Bill and Camille Cosby. Meanwhile, visitors at the exhibit itself have left almost all positive messages in 74 pages of a comment book, praising the artwork despite Cosby’s troubles. “Art is art. The museum tried to distance itself from Cosby’s “behavior” with a statement on its website, but said that the show is “fundamentally about the artworks and the artists who created them, not the owners of the collections.” “Should the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York close because it was funded by basically the robber barons?” asked George Bierlin, visiting the museum from Florida, talking to the Herald. “Thank you for standing by the decision to exhibit and show this outstanding collection,” visitor Aaro Jean Bell Reid wrote in a guest book. “We should remember that the real man behind this collection is (art scholar) David Driskell. Of those, at least 30 messages call for the National Museum of African Art to take down its “Conversations” exhibition featuring Cosby’s African-American art collection paired with African art.

Cosby only wrote the checks.” Driskell, an artist and art historian whose work is included in the show, also advised Cosby on the formation of his collection. “The truth is that the Smithsonian cannot separate the art that they (are) exhibiting from the fact that for decades Bill Cosby used his most prominent position in the arts to drug and rape untold numbers of women and girls who were themselves trying to climb that difficult ladder in the arts,” another commenter wrote. The Smithsonian came under fire in 2010 for removing a video by David Wojnarowicz from the exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery. A few threatened to boycott the museum complex, cancel their memberships or withhold future donations. “By continuing to display any works of art of, by, through Bill Cosby demonstrates and shows how the Smithsonian Institute feels about women,” one person wrote. “We will no longer be supporters of The Smithsonian.” On both sides, the exhibit has elicited strong opinions.

Museum experts and scholars have said taking an exhibit down would trample on the curatorial integrity and academic freedom behind the creation of such exhibits. The collection features many paintings and sculptures by significant African-American artists, and most of the pieces have never been shown in public before. “Beautiful, inspiring art and pairings. In the art gallery Wednesday, many young visitors streamed through with camp or school groups, seemingly oblivious to the controversy as they browsed through the art collection.

At the same time, art lover George Bierlin, a retiree from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, who spends part of the year in southern Maryland, sat down for a longer gaze at some of Cosby’s family quilts and other artworks on the walls. Bierlin and his wife had wanted to see the exhibit, and they decided to visit now “before the world goes crazy and they decide to disband the exhibit, if in fact they do,” he said.

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