Bizarre Sculpture Sparks Controversy at Wellesley

Senior Assistant Editor, Wintergreen Orchard House

Feb   2014



Students at Wellesley College, an all-women’s school in Wellesley, Massachusetts, are scratching their heads over a new art exhibit that has spilled out of the school’s Davis Museum and onto the side of the road. Called Sleepwalker, the sculpture was created by artist Tony Matellli and depicts a sleeping man dressed only in his underwear. The lifelike sculpture’s risqué fashion sense—combined with the fact that it’s installed on a stretch of road that hundreds of students walk and drive on each day—has drawn mixed reactions.

Tony Matelli, Sleepwalker, 2014.
Photo from The Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Some students have found it amusing, some think it would be less jarring if it was moved indoors, and others have found it creepy at best and terrifying at worst. One student even launched a petition on, calling on Wellesley’s president to “remove the uncomfortable and potentially triggering statue put up without student consent.” The Swellesley Report noted that other students had protested by putting pajamas on the sculpture.

Photo by Alex Lee
Photo from

Lisa Fischman, director of the Davis Museum, explained the sculpture’s message and the purpose of its outdoor placement on Wellesley’s website.

“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 also notes that “art has an extraordinary power to evoke personal response, and to elicit the unexpected.”

For students at Wellesley, the scantily-clad sculpture is certainly unexpected, and if that is the goal of art, then perhaps the artist has achieved some degree of success.

Tony Matelli: New Gravity is on exhibit at Wellesley from February 5 through May 11, and so far, the school has not moved the conversation-starting sculpture indoors.

What do you think of the sculpture? What is the goal of art, and does the sculpture fulfill that goal? If something similar were installed at your school, what would your reaction be?

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie is a Writer and Senior Editor at Wintergreen Orchard House, where she manages the collection of data from schools in the Northeast and Midwest regions. Stephanie holds a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times she has been: an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. She looks forward to sharing her experiences with college-bound students and the counselors guiding them along the way!  

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