Tony Matelli’s “Sleepwalker” at Wellesley College

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I am absolutely amazed at the amount of press a sculpture on Wellesley College’s campus has received. Tony Matelli, a sculptor, has his first solo US exhibition opening at the Davis Museum tomorrow; I will give my reactions to that exhibition after I see it. As a promotional tactic, one of Tony Matelli’s hyper-realistic sculptures has been posed on Wellesley’s campus, “Sleepwalker.” 

There’s our guy, in all his glory. Image courtesy of boston.com

Since I used to work for the Davis Museum, last semester I became aware that this sculpture was going to be put up. As I predicted, there is a considerable amount of backlash associated with this sculpture, but it is still not exactly what I expected.

Many people are saying that the sculpture needs to be taken down because the presence of a mostly naked man (albeit a lifeless one) could trigger horrific memories in sexual assault victims. Although he is meant to look like he is asleep, a passersby would not know that at first. His outstretched arms appear as if they want to grab you. Admittedly, it does seem like it could be quite triggering.

In my personal opinion, I think that the statue is creepy, antagonistic, and all around very, very impressive. Tony Matelli knows how to make things look very real, and his work can touch a nerve that other work cannot. While I am personally not a fan of antagonistic art, Matelli is certainly a very talented artist and no one can deny that.

However, I do not think that his work is relevant to this campus. Wellesley College is a small, liberal arts women’s college in a wealthy suburban town in Massachusetts. The Davis Museum is an academic museum. Its audience consists of female students, old ladies from the town of Wellesley, and school groups. Is this the appropriate audience for a Tony Matelli exhibition? I don’t think so. Matelli’s work is more suited to an urban setting, perhaps at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, where provocative work of this nature is more well-received and can be pondered by a wider audience. 

My thoughts will be more fully formed after I see this exhibition tomorrow. Perhaps my mind will be changed. But as of now, the Sleepwalker, while provocative, is perhaps provoking the incorrect reaction.

Here are a few links to some of my favorite articles about the statue: 

Buzzfeed article, “Incredibly Life-Like Statue of A Man In Just His Underwear Is Scaring Students at Wellesley College”

Perez Hilton, “Lifelike Statue of Man in Tighty-Whitey Undies Gets Erected At All-Girls College!”

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