Wellesley College Art Exhibit Has Some Students Creeped Out

Tony Matelli’s sculpture the Sleepwalker is just art, the curator claims.

For students at Wellesley College, the sight of a nearly naked man lingering on the school’s campus has caused a bit of a stir.

An incredibly life-like model, called the Sleepwalker, was put on display to tease the latest exhibit  “New Gravity” at the school’s Davis Museum, featuring artist Tony Matelli.

The exhibit is meant to upend expectations, and challenge people’s perceptions of what art is by taking over two floors of the gallery space, and extending outside of the building with the models on display, according to museum curators. But the “hyper-realistic” human figure that looks as though it’s lazily creeping along the roadway like a zombie with nothing but white underwear on had students raising their eyebrows on Tuesday.

“So this is what happens when guys come to Wellesley,” one person tweeted, after taking a photo of the Sleepwalker model. “What will the Wellesley townsfolk think?”

Kate Leonard called it “a bizarre choice for outdoor art at a women’s college,” while another person wondered on the museum’s Facebook page, “how many people have called the police?” already.

Some students even went as far as creating a petition demanding the president of the women’s college immediately remove the figure from the campus, calling it inappropriate, and citing its potential to possibly trigger thoughts about sexual assault. More than 183 students signed the Change.org petition as of Tuesday night.

Lisa Fischman, director of the Davis Museum on the school’s campus, who curated the display, responded to the criticism that was floating around social media, as they started setting up the statues on Tuesday in the snow. Her response? The Tony Matelli exhibit is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.

“I love the idea of art escaping the museum and muddling the line between what we expect to be inside and what we expect to be outside,” she wrote in a post on the museum’s website. “Reaction to the Sleepwalker’s presence has been varied.”

Here’s how she describes the Sleepwalker that all the students were talking about:

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 wonders why; one wonders also how he has gotten so lost, so off course. He is a figure of pathos, and one that warrants our measured consideration. Perhaps he carries metaphorical weight.

Fischman said all day, after the installation went up outside, she closely watched from the fifth floor windows of one of the school’s buildings, “as students [stopped] to interact playfully with the sculpture.”

She said they were taking “selfies,” stopping to gawk at it, and sharing pictures via Twitter. But some were also perturbed. “I have also heard the opinions of others who find the sculpture troubling,” she admitted.

But it seems as though for Fischman evoking strong feelings of wonder, disapproval, or even fear, is exactly what was intended. “As the best art does, Tony Matelli’s work provokes dialogue, and discourse is at the core of education,” she said, adding that the museum set up stations at the school where students can write open letters about how they feel about the Sleepwalker, and weigh in. Students are also being encouraged to respond online.

However, some students still asked that the Sleepwalker at least remain indoors. “While art holds a valuable place in our community, we are particularly concerned that the student body was not consulted on such a sensitive and potentially upsetting matter, particularly given that this installation was placed in a highly trafficked location, with no real option for students to avoid it,” students wrote on the Change.org petition.

The exhibit, which was supposed to open Wednesday, February 5, was postponed because of the wintry weather barreling down on the Bay State. But Fischman said those that are curious to catch what else Matelli has to offer through his work can attend the gallery opening Thursday.

  • UnfrozenCavemanMD

    The modern art establishment considers it their mission to transgress against the sensibilities of ordinary people, to elevate ugliness over beauty, and tragedy over heroism. Wellesley College thinks they can elevate themselves, not with the image of a powerful woman, who is beautiful, fully engaged, and aware, but with that of a weak and unattractive man, who is unaware, and out of place.

    I would be surprised if the present art establishment at Wellesley College even considers a heroic depiction of a powerful, beautiful woman as legitimate art. That was not a always the case. There was a time when artists strived to depict positive values and aspirational themes. Wouldn’t a statue of the Greek heroine, Atalanta, who openly defied the constraints placed on women of her time, be far better for this campus? That is the kind of statue I would like to see on a campus for my daughters. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5b/Atalante_1_Lepautre_Louvre_MR_1804.jpg/399px-Atalante_1_Lepautre_Louvre_MR_1804.jpg

    This work of Tony Matelli is the antithesis of Atalanta, a tremendous technical achievement that reflects the decay of values in the art community. Nice product placement for Hanes, too.

    • Dylan

      You’re a fart.

      • Tancred

        I’m getting tired of the double standard used by women in describing men. He is “paunchy, balding and he doesn’t get outdoors in the sun much.” If it were a woman who a man described as “fat” and “pale” and “wearing a girdle,” the commenter would get slammed as being a mysoginist that perpetuated culturally constructed norms of what feminine beauty is. He could be a nice guy, couldn’t he?

    • Aaron Legere


    • Kevin King

      Oh, another been there done that sculpture. Thats new and exciting. Excuse me while I sleepwalk now.

    • jake481

      Tragedy over heroism?

      What are you talking about?

    • Ꙭ cis dudebro 2.0 Ꙭ

      It is the perfect reflection of current state of masculinity. Blind, naked, wondering and confused. Placing it on all women campus produced predictable reactions of androphobia and sexism.

  • Anthony Martignetti

    I am sad and concerned for the woman of Wellesley. They are afraid. They are upset . . . even when a man is depicted as harmless and weak, lost and alone, exposed to the elements and quite still. We can only hope there is sufficient preparation and readiness by the on campus support teams for the potential trauma caused by this installation.

  • Flibo

    If these “educated” women had taken the time to do even a quick Google search, they would have found that the same sculptor created this:


    Then again, a half-naked woman walking the Wellesley campus wouldn’t be so disturbing, I guess.

  • bdcstrong1

    This is just shocking! How could anyone even think of displaying a half naked man at an all girls school. Wonder what Hillary thinks about this Sleepwalker in the middle of her old campus?

    • Alex Pineau

      Probably worried that people are getting more upset about a statue wearing underwear then the more important issues the world is going through right noe

  • Millicent Broderick

    Today the somnambulist has 4 inches of snow on his sad looking head. A better day may hopefully attract a friendly pigeon.

  • Sam West

    Modern “art” is garbage and this one just as well.

    • Alex Pineau

      Art isn’t about the way things look. It’s about the way it makes people feel. This art is doing exactly what it was meant to do.

  • fdsfkdsfidsifidsii

    You have some serious issues if you can’t deal with a statue of a guy in his underwear.

    • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

      That’s the whole point. A lot of people do actually have serious issues, and seriously don’t need to be surprised by bumping into a statue of an almost naked dude in the middle of the night on a women’s college campus, because no one told you it’d be there.

      • Evan C. Paul

        Let’s say I was attacked by a bird when I was a child and it left me traumatized. Does that mean I get to tell the world to remove all bird sculptures because I have serious issues?

        How is this any different?

        • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

          Because you’re paying over 50k a year to be on the campus, which is supposed to be a “safe space”. This was put in the middle of a well trafficked area, on the sidewalk. I took this route home from the science center at 3 in the morning all the time.

          Then as soon as you graduate, they will ask you for money to make things like this possible. Actually, before you graduate, they will begin to ask. Alumnae donate quite a lot back to the school.

          That’s what makes this different.

          • Alex Pineau

            How does a statue make the campus “less safe”?

          • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

            I’m kinda tired of arguing, so just google the phrase “safe space” or possibly “safe space Wellesley” and pick any of the links that show up.

      • jeffrey wahlgren

        Good thing it wasn’t a sculpture of a giant sunflower!

        • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

          I would attack it immediately :O it would be rendered to a pile of molten wax upon my next convenience.

          Brrr… sunflowers…

        • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.
  • bdcstrong1

    Somebody should get him an overcoat.

    • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

      Campus po has been instructed to keep him in his current state. Students have attempted to put various articles of clothes on him, and campus po has to take the clothes off.

  • Joan Fullerton

    I think he looks sad. My impression is this is a picture of modern middle aged men – outdated undies, paunchy, balding and he doesn’t get outdoors in the sun much…. He should have ditched the undies!!!

  • Chip Simone

    Wellesley isn’t a ‘girls school’, its a women’s college with a reputation for scholarly excellence and keen intellectual discourse. I’m surprised and dismayed by the juvenile reactions of some students. The history of western art is replete with the human figure of both genders, in all states of dress and undress. As such the figure has, and remains, a powerful mechanism for reflection on the human condition. As a RISD graduate I see the human body as an important symbol of creative inquiry and an evolving indicator of societal norms. I encourage Wellesley students to take advantage of this opportunity to engage in a conversation about the state of contemporary artistic expression and the role of the human figure in it. I would expect no less from such a renowned college.

  • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

    Soooo… Does NO ONE remember the “Wellesley Wanker”? We sure don’t need any more unclothed men walking around outside on campus. Real or no. Put some pants on him and we’re square.

    We have enough randomly in the dorms, and I mean that literally, I’ve run into at least three naked guys just walking around in the dorms in my time there. Did I freak out, no, but I -did- just go back into my room. My general policy on men in their underwear (or less) is that if I expect to see one, it’s fine. Otherwise, I should probably leave. =P

    • Evan C. Paul

      He isn’t naked, though.

      • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

        I didn’t say he was. The Wellesley Wanker wasn’t naked either. =P

      • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

        So, some context: Wellesley College is a campus where a lone guy walking around at night is likely to get picked up by campus po. Even with clothes on, really. I’ve vouched for more than a few male friends who wandered out after hours. This is normal and expected.

        While sometimes this makes us laugh (because it’s technically gender-profiling), we understand that simply because its a women’s college, some people target the student body for pranks, harassment, fraternity rituals, etc. The student body is aware of this.

        But current students are not Fischman’s playthings to be watched from a 5th story window, and no one asked to be part of Matelli’s art. The statue was intended to provoke dialogue and reactions… but they are students, not guinea pigs. You know what reactions this statue has provoked? Mostly anxiety, anger, trauma-triggers and irritation.

        It’s kinda like being trolled.

  • kerry

    You think this sculpture is disturbing? If this sculpture disturbs you, I can’t wait to see what you think of the real world outside your safe little campus.

  • sundshine

    I find it impossible to read the light blue text of the comments. Is anyone else having this problem? Can this be changed, so we can actually read the comments? I hope so. This is very interesting.

  • chiastolite

    If this guy was totally naked but cast in metal and maybe executed in a more classical style, I bet no one would say a word of complaint.

  • Τήνος Αιγαίο Πέλαγος

    I’m just glad that the world is finally seeing the girls at Wellesley for exactly who they are.

    @chipsimone:disqus – “a women’s college with a reputation for scholarly excellence and keen intellectual discourse.” Wellesley may have this reputation, but this is just another case of reality not meeting expectation … which as we all knows, leads to great unhappiness … and that’s what any guy gets when he spends time at Wellesley.

    So, to conclude, this is art imitating reality …

  • Guest

    I’m just glad that the world is finally seeing the girls at Wellesley for exactly who they are.

    Chip Simone – “a women’s college with a reputation for scholarly excellence and keen intellectual discourse.” Wellesley may have this reputation, but this is just another case of reality not meeting expectation … which as we all knows, leads to great unhappiness … and that’s what any guy gets when he spends time at Wellesley.

    So, to conclude, this is art imitating reality …

    • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

      Wait wait wait, you came to a women’s college campus looking to gain.. happiness? Have you expectations fulfilled? Bathe in the statistical likelihood of getting laid?

      What were you expecting? Just.. don’t.

      • UserNamed

        Maybe Guest is just referring to the fact that men get strange looks when walking alone on campus as well as the fact that men cannot use the bathrooms in the dorms without being accompanied by a woman. The conclusion of getting laid from what Guest posted is absolutely delusional

        • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

          It’s a JPham reference, and I shouldn’t have expected you to get it because you do not know the context in which you argue.

          Your assumptions are false. We have many gender neutral bathrooms in our dorms, and at the beginning of each semester, each floor of each dorm meets to decide who can go to what bathrooms, and what makes everyone comfortable.

          In some of our floors, people can walk to bathrooms, regardless of gender, in any state of undress.

          • UserNamed

            You’re right. I know very little about what I’m arguing. All I know for certain is that I went to the Wellesley campus upon invitation. While visiting a friend in her dorm, she said that she had to wait outside while I used the bathroom. After a pleasant discussion, I left to take the shuttle back to Boston where I received more dirty looks per step than I can ever remember. The whole experience was quite uncomfortable and I never accepted another invitation. Make of that what you will. Please just don’t be demeaning. It doesn’t reflect well on my Wellesley friends who I am very fond of.

        • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

          And I understand why young men without clearance get strange looks walking alone on campus when its really late. The question “Why are you here?” comes to mind.

  • S Joseph Presti

    switch to boxer shorts, less creepy

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ar-y810wS8 Phaerisee

    Ugh. LOL 🙂

  • Ꙭ cis dudebro 2.0 Ꙭ

    Besides this disturbing whining of overindulged female privilege does anyone concerned that there are Forty Eight (48) all-women colleges in US and only 5 all-men colleges? Must be patriarchy…

    • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

      This world and this society aren’t equal opportunity yet, don’t pretend that it is. And there are officially 66 active all men’s colleges in the United States, you are discounting the ones with religious affiliations.

      • Olinthus

        Since that list includes religious “colleges” that train men to be priests and rabbis in religions that exclude women from these rolls should be discounted.

        There are three non-religious afilliated schools that are all male: Hampden-Sydney, Morehouse, Wabash.

        • http://sparklingmediocrity.tumblr.com/ I should have been a Silvia.

          I probably should have explained why I said this. I include those colleges in society, and I take into account that women probably aren’t allowed to take those vocations.

          They are part of a larger picture. So I include them.

          Wellesley, originally “Wellesley Female Seminary” (not in the religious sense) was created because another thing popularly disallowed to women at the time was education itself. Now it still exists as a single sex institution because it has been ruled time and time again that there is still a statistically strange gender disparity in the larger picture, despite that there are currently more women in college than men.

  • Mark Allen Thibodeau

    It’s gotten a lot of attention so it’s working. Nothing inappropriate about it… The man is covered. Would a woman in her bra and panties be more appropriate? I’m sure many would like it more but art is art… Take it as it is…

  • craig cadolowitz

    i can’t stand looking at it, it keeps triggering my memories of sexual assaults i preformed back in the early 2000’s

  • Concise Noise Fractionale Ltd.

    Please, help Citizens Annoyed with Hypocrisy and Hypersensitivity and sign the petition to urge H. Kim Bottomly, President of Wellesley College, to dissuade her students from further hysteria and inconsistency.