What is This Naked Man Doing at Wellesley College?

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

The "Sleepwalker" by Tony Matelli at Wellesley College's Davis Museum. Credit: Nikki A. Greene (Twitter).
The "Sleepwalker" by Tony Matelli at Wellesley College's Davis Museum. Credit: Nikki A. Greene (Twitter).

Although the opening of Tony Matelli’s exhibit “New Gravity” at Wellesley College’s Davis Museum was postponed due to the snowstorm, one piece of the exhibit has created its own storm online this week.

The “Sleepwalker” is a realistic, life-sized statue of a nearly-naked man in his underwear installed outside the Davis near the road. And since it was placed outside, it has elicited quite a response from students and others.

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.”

While another person asked: “Is that a real person walking?”

A 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.”  

The official opening of Matelli’s New Gravity exhibit is now scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 6. Matelli will speak about his work, including the “Sleepwalker” at 5:30 p.m. inside the Davis Museum. A reception will follow at 6:30 p.m. in the Davis lobby.

The Davis Museum is located at 106 Central St. in Wellesley. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday until 8 p.m., and Sundays noon to 4 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and holidays.

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