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What is This Nearly Naked Man Doing at This College Campus?

The ‘Sleepwalker’ statue sparks criticism from students, residents.

Screen grab
Screen grab

By Danielle Masterson

Is that a real person walking?

The question has been asked a lot lately at Wellesley College near Boston as a life-sized statue of a nearly-naked man in his underwear was installed on campus. The staue is part of Tony Matelli’s exhibit “New Gravity” at Wellesley College’s Davis Museum.

The “Sleepwalker” statue has elicited a strong reaction. On the Davis Facebook page, a woman commented: “Now we're celebrating near naked statues of older men on campus? Sorry, don't get it. Don't think it belongs there. Do not understand how passers by are supposed to know it is connected to an indoor art installation.”

A student added: “This isn't something that should be displayed openly on our campus, nor should it be considered art. Very disappointed in the college.”

change.org petition was created to ask the school to remove the statue and received 250 signatures. However, the school responded Tuesday that the statue would remain.

Lisa Fischman, the director of the Davis Museum, said in her complete statement:

Dear all,

Thank you for your engagement and for your thoughtful response to Tony Matelli's Sleepwalker, which was installed this afternoon on the Wellesley campus.

Art has an extraordinary power to evoke personal response, and to elicit the unexpected. We placed the Sleepwalker on the roadside just beyond the Davis to connect the exhibition -- within the museum -- to the campus world beyond. I love the idea of art escaping the museum and muddling the line between what we expect to be inside (art) and what we expect to be outside (life). I watched from the 5th floor windows today (intermittently, over several hours) as students stopped to interact playfully with the sculpture. They took selfies with him, snapping pics with their phones, and gathering to look at this new figure on the Wellesley landscape -- even as the snow fell.

Matelli's Sleepwalker -- considered up close -- is a man in deep sleep. Arms outstretched, eyes closed, he appears vulnerable and unaware against the snowy backdrop of the space around him. He is not naked. He is profoundly passive. He is inert, as sculpture. But he does inspire narrative. He appears to have drifted away from wherever he belongs and one wonder why; one wonders also how he has gotten so lost, so off course. He is a figure of pathos, and one that warrants measured consideration. Perhaps he carries metaphorical weight.

Art provokes dialogue, and discourse is the core of education. In that spirit, I am enormously glad to have your response.

Respectfully yours,

Lisa Fischman

Ruth Gordon Shapiro '37 Director

Davis Museum at Wellesley College

In a further statement on the Davis Museum website, Fischman said the “Sleepwalker” was placed on the roadside in an attempt to connect the exhibit “to the campus world beyond our walls.”  

Grumpy Old Man February 06, 2014 at 07:30 AM
@Reader @Justin - OK. I agree. My problem though is the almost deceptive manner. I would prefer they put some idea as to where the story originates in the caption so I know where to spend my time and click on if I want or ignore (I clicked on to this one because it appeared interesting but to be frank, when I saw it wasn't local, I was turned off - the artistic value, or lack thereof was no longer any concern - what me worry in the estimable Alfred E. Newman's vocabulary). In my local Patch when a story originates in another area when I click on it the local patch in which the story originated appears not my local patch like many of these articles do. I still do see the switch in some posts, usually on blogs that get in. Ho Hum. Thanks for your comments. I still think they ultimately are in trouble because it is hard to determine what the silent majority, in Dick Nixon's parlance, have to say but I suspect many agree with the vocal. I hope Patch continues because there are local stories and I agree, the electronic media is the future.
Larry Fine February 06, 2014 at 02:24 PM
NJ Devils suck
chris February 06, 2014 at 03:14 PM
This has nothing to do with Long Island, New York. Please do not post items like this on the HHH Patch.
Maddie Chambers February 06, 2014 at 05:20 PM
Being in a community that this is actually local news for seems foreign on this page, but this actually applies to me. I would like to get engaged in conversation with people from all over, but on local issues, such as these, that not many people from other places know about, is not really the type of material to create that kind of dialogue. However, I do want to raise a point concerning the article and maybe other people that are interested in this topic will join in as well. The artist placed this statute on the campus of a prestigious well-known woman's college, which has since then sparked controversy with the locals and women of the college, including issues of male privilege, and the safety of women. This is an issue that is not simply going to be forgotten and I think it should be resolved by the relocation of the art; even to the inside of the museum at least. The main point however is that this is right along side a busy main road and is a distraction to drivers. There was a boy who was killed by a passing car in Wellfleet, Ma this past summer and there was a "ghost bike" placed on site as a memorial, but it is threatened with being taken down, as it is labeled a distraction. How can this all-white bike against a guardrail pose more of a distraction than a nearly naked, realistic human-like statue right alongside a road? Especially the fact that the statue is a highly controversial art piece, while the ghost bike also being an art piece in its own regard, is a memorial for a murdered 16 year old boy and is in being taken down while the statue is not. I believe that this is very wrong. http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=%2F20140203%2FNEWS%2F402030304%2F-1%2FNEWS11

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