Wellesley’s Nearly-Nude Sleepwalker Has Everyone Talking About Art

Sculptor discusses controversial piece at college Thursday night, as students flock to social media.

The Sleepwalker by Tony Matelli at Wellesley College's Davis Museum. Credit: Kent Dayton on Instagram.
The Sleepwalker by Tony Matelli at Wellesley College's Davis Museum. Credit: Kent Dayton on Instagram.

For a nearly-naked sleeping inanimate object, the Sleepwalker has caused quite a stir at the Wellesley College campus.

Since its installation outside the Davis Museum as part of the New Gravity exhibit by Tony Matelli, the practically naked statue has drawn criticism from some, while others have enjoyed the piece. It's also become a viral, Internet and national media sensation. 

Over 700 people have signed a petition to museum officials asking for the removal of the statue, saying that it “does not speak to the power of art to inspire dialogue but rather to the power of the nearly nude, white, male body to disturb and discomfit. Even unconscious and vulnerable, he is threatening.”

But museum director Lisa Fischman said the Sleepwalker will stay as part of the exhibit:
“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.”

In a discussion on the entire New Gravity exhibit Thursday evening, Matelli told visitors that this is his third Sleepwalker statue, but the first to be placed outside a building. Photos of a female Sleepwalker statue, in only her underwear, have been posted on Twitter.

"This is a sculpture I wanted people to feel empathy towards, because there's pathos in this sculpture, it's almost a sad sculpture," Matelli said Thursday night.

Students are interacting with the sculpture, as seen in the selfies and photos culled together from Instagram and Twitter in the Storify above. Scroll through to see the photos, as well as the appearance of the Sleepwalkers “own” Twitter account—a parody account that was started on the social media page this week.

What do you think of the Sleepwalker statue? Is it art and starting a discussion? Or is it an image of a man as a sexual predator? Tell us in the comments below.


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