After a museum installed a statue of an underdressed man in a highly trafficked area of Wellesley’s campus on Monday, a couple hundred of the college’s students were filled with questions. Like: What is art? Is it real? Who is this man who is a sculpture? Is who the proper pronoun for a sculpture? Oh, it’s not?
In response to this provocation, 250 students signed a Change.org petition to remove the art from campus. Lauren Walsh, class of 2014, writes in the plea that this statue has presented an “undue source of stress,” and is “inappropriate and potentially harmful.”
The statue (called The Sleepwalker, by artist Tony Matelli) is part of an exhibit called “New Gravity” at Wellesley’s Davis Museum. It is certainly lifelike. Many students at Wellesley, like the first viewers of a moving picture show, are just now learning about how to visually interpret realistic objects. Bridget Schreiner, a Wellesley freshman, told the Boston Globe that she momentarily thought the statue was a real person and so felt “freaked out.” Laura Mayron, a Wellesley College sophomore, told the Globe:
I honestly didn’t even want to get too close to him. It honestly makes me a little uncomfortable with how real he looks. It’s odd.
The museum’s director, Lisa Fischman, is patiently helping these students to trust their eyes. While she did not suggest that confused parties buddy-up with an art history student or test out their visual abilities on a television set first, she did work to clarify some questions that people had about the sculpture:
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.
Meanwhile, the student who started the Change.org protest, Zoe Magid, told the Boston Globe that she’s still wondering about whether this art poses a real threat:
We were really disappointed that she seemed to articulate that she was glad it was starting discussion, but didn’t respond to the fact that it’s making students on campus feel unsafe, which is not appropriate. We really feel that if a piece of art makes students feel unsafe, that steps over a line.
Because the statue is a statue, it is not likely to step over any lines at all, but I suppose we shall see.