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Statue is part of art exhibit 

WELLESLEY, Mass. — A remarkably lifelike sculpture of a man sleepwalking in nothing but his underpants has made some Wellesley College students a bit uncomfortable, but the president of the prestigious women’s school says that’s all part of the intellectual process.

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The sculpture entitled “Sleepwalker” of a man in an eyes-closed, zombie-like trance is part of an exhibit by sculptor Tony Matelli at the college’s Davis Museum. It was placed at a busy area of campus on Monday, a few days before the official opening of the exhibit, and prompted an online student petition to have it removed.

The sculpture is a “source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault” for many, according to the petition, which had nearly 300 signees on Wednesday.

The petition started by junior Zoe Magid called on President H. Kim Bottomly to have the artwork removed.

That appeared unlikely, according to a joint statement issued Wednesday by Bottomly and museum Director Lisa Fischman.

“The very best works of art have the power to stimulate deeply personal emotions and to provoke unexpected new ideas, and this sculpture is no exception,” the statement said. The sculpture “has started an impassioned conversation about art, gender, sexuality and individual experience, both on campus and on social media.”

The sculpture was placed outdoors specifically to get a reaction and to connect the indoor exhibition with the world beyond, Fischman said.

“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),” she wrote.

Reaction from the campus community was mixed.

Freshman Bridget Schreiner told The Boston Globe she was “freaked out” the first time she saw the sculpture, thinking for a moment that a real, nearly naked man was lingering on campus.

“This could be a trigger for students who have experienced sexual assault,” she said.

Others were more understanding.

“I find it disturbing, but in a good way,” English professor Sarah Wall-Randell said. “I think it’s meant to be off-putting. It’s a schlumpy guy in underpants in an all-women environment.”

The exhibit opens Thursday and closes July 20.


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Tony Matelli’s Sleepwalker, is part of an art exhibit at Wellesley College’s Davis Museum.

By Jaclyn Reiss, Boston.com Staff

A realistic-looking statue of a man sleepwalking in his underwear near the center of Wellesley College has created a stir among the women on campus, especially as more than 100 students at the all-women’s college signed a petition asking administrators to remove it.

The statue, called Sleepwalker, is part of an art exhibit featuring sculptor Tony Matelli at the college’s Davis Museum. The exhibit, New Gravity, features sculptures that are often reversed, upended or atomized.

However, the statue of the sleepwalker — which is hard to miss in a high-traffic area by both pedestrians and drivers near the campus center — has caused outrage among some students in just one day after its Feb. 3 installation. Zoe Magid, a Wellesley College junior majoring in political science, started a petition on Change.org asking college president H. Kim Bottomly to have the statue removed.

“[T]his highly lifelike sculpture has, within just a few hours of its outdoor installation, become a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for many members of our campus community,” says the petition, which was posted by Magid. “While it may appear humorous, or thought-provoking to some, it has already become a source of undue stress for many Wellesley College students, the majority of whom live, study, and work in this space.”

Davis Museum director Lisa Fischman wrote on Wellesley College’s official website that the sculpture was meant to evoke response.

“We placed the Sleepwalker on the roadside just beyond the Davis to connect the exhibition — within the museum — to the campus world beyond,” Fischman wrote, also posting it on Change.org as her response to the petition. “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).”

Fischman noted that reactions on campus have been “varied,” and even wrote that she has heard that some find the statue “troubling.” However, she noted that the sculpture’s whole intent was to start discussion.

“As the best art does, Tony Matelli’s work provokes dialogue, and discourse is at the core of education,” she wrote.

However, Magid said over the phone Tuesday that Fischman’s response failed to address students’ concerns.

“We were really disappointed that she seemed to articulate that she was glad it was starting discussion, but didn’t respond to the fact that it’s making students on campus feel unsafe, which is not appropriate,” Magid said. “We really feel that if a piece of art makes students feel unsafe, that steps over a line.”

At the college on Tuesday, many drivers could be seen slamming on their brakes as they approached or passed the statue, craning their necks for a second look. Many students were seen making a casual beeline for the new addition on campus — some smiled and laughed as they got closer; others frowned and seemed apprehensive. All reached for their smartphones to take a photo.

“I honestly didn’t even want to get too close to him,” said Laura Mayron, a Wellesley College sophomore. “It honestly makes me a little uncomfortable with how real he looks. It’s odd.”

Bridget Schreiner, a Wellesley freshman, said Tuesday afternoon that she had already signed the Change.org petition that was posted late Monday night.

Schreiner said she felt “freaked out” the first time she saw the statue, thinking for a moment that a real, nearly naked person was lingering near the campus center.

“This could be a trigger for students who have experienced sexual assault,” she said.

Others said while the statue came as a surprise, they understood the artist’s intention.

“I find it disturbing, but in a good way,” said Sarah Wall-Randell, an English professor at Wellesley. “I think it’s meant to be off-putting – it’s a schlumpy guy in underpants in an all-women environment.”

Wellesley College senior Annie Wang, an art history major, said she acknowledged that the statue forced passers-by to contemplate the very nature of art.

However, she said she wished to see the statue moved out of such a public space.

“I think art’s intention is to confront, but not assault, and people can see this as assaulting,” Wang said. “Wellesley is a place where we’re supposed to feel safe. I think place and a context matters, and I don’t think this is the place to put it.”

Matelli is slated to appear on campus next week at a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is one of four films the college is showing this semester to complement his exhibit. Matelli is expected to speak after the screening on Feb. 12. The event begins at 6 p.m. at the Collins Cinema.

Tony Matelli: New Gravity will be on exhibit from Feb. 5 through May 11 in the Bronfman and Chandler galleries, and Feb. 5 through July 20 in the Jobson and Tanner galleries. The exhibition is free and open to the general public.


By Felina S. Robinson

Art is a beautiful thing. Some art should only be shown in a museum or gallery. Art can often be somewhat “out there”.  Often explicit in its very nature. There is a sense of freedom that any artist feels when creating a piece whether it be a painting, a story, a sculpture, or a drawing, etc. With that being said, the reality of Tony Matelli’s “Sleepwalker” is just over the top. Today we deal with teens walking down the street with their pants hanging low exhibiting their underwear as if it was a shirt and tie. I know that when I walk behind a young person sporting that attire, it takes everything in me not to run up to him and pull up his pants. In fact, I often find myself telling a young person as well as some adults that I don’t care to see their underwear and ask them to pull their pants up.  I further go so far as to say that “I’m certain no one else wants to see it either”. Sometimes the individual will apologize for their insensitivity. Sometimes they prefer to swear at me and call me names. I don’t care about that. I do care that someone is making me uncomfortable even somewhat violated if you think about it. If you look at the picture of the “Sleepwalker” below, you will see a woman on the opposite side of the street covering her face. She can’t bare to look at the sculpture. Maybe she doesn’t even know it’s a sculpture.  I’m certain that I don’t want to be walking down the street alone, with friends, or with my kids and happen upon something like the “Sleepwalker”.  This type of sculpture only belongs in an adult museum or gallery.
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Tony Matelli’s Sleepwalker, is part of an art exhibit at Wellesley College’s Davis Museum.

You also have to think about the fact that people get arrested every day for indecent exposure for showing a lot less.  What does it say about an educational institution that both condones and supports such art. I’m more than concerned that one of Wellesley’s own English professors, Sarah Wall-Randell, had the following to say “I find it disturbing, but in a good way.”  “I think it’s meant to be off-putting – it’s a schlumpy guy in underpants in an all-women environment.” This shows such a lack of respect to all those that have been sexually assaulted and/or abused. None of us have any idea how this could potentially affect such victims or trigger their memories.  All for a glimpse, a laugh, or just to make an artistic statement.

I support Zoe Magid, a Wellesley College junior majoring in political science, who started a petition on Change.org asking college president H. Kim Bottomly to have the statue removed. I have every intention of signing that petition myself and encourage others to do so as well.

Davis Museum director Lisa Fischman wrote on Wellesley College’s official website that the sculpture was meant to evoke response as stated by By Jaclyn Reiss, Boston.com Staff in her article “Realistic statue of man in his underwear at Wellesley College sparks controversy“.

Art is a beautiful thing and it’s wonderful that we are all able to enjoy artistic freedom, but with like everything else in the world, there are limits to what we do, when we do it, where we do it and how we do it. It isn’t necessary to make others feel so incommodious.