WELLESLEY, Mass. — A remarkably lifelike sculpture of a man sleepwalking in 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.
The sculpture, “Sleepwalker,” is part of an exhibit by sculptor Tony Matelli at the college’s Davis Museum. It was placed at a busy area of campus 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 signatures by 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.
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“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.
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 open is scheduled to open Thursday.