Artist Tony Matelli surprised by ‘Sleepwalker’ sculpture reaction at Wellesley College

boston wellesley college sleepwalker sculpture tony matelli
The “Sleepwalker” by Tony Matelli is seen at Wellesley College.
Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki, Metro

The artist who created the controversial “Sleepwalker” sculpture that was recently installed at Wellesley College said he was surprised by the negative reaction.

“Totally surprised,” artist Tony Matelli said in a phone interview on Thursday. “That’s one sculpture of many in the exhibition and, in a lot of ways, it’s my most conservative show. I was expecting yawns actually.”

Matelli’s bronze and painted sculpture of a man wearing only white underwear was installed this week at the women’s college. He said he has no plans to remove it and that it would ultimately be up to the Davis Museum at Wellesley College.

A Change.org petition asking for the removal of the sculpture has shifted positions since Wednesday, and is now asking that it be moved inside the Davis Museum. It was previously asking that the “uncomfortable and potentially triggering” sculpture be removed. It has more than 550 signatures.

Matelli said that the petition would not change how he goes about his work.

“That’s the way art works. It’s subjective and I can’t control other people’s subjectivity. I can’t presume what triggers their trauma. I can’t be expected to think about that,” he said.

The sculpture is part of Matelli’s New Gravity exhibit set to open at the Davis Museum. He said placing the “Sleepwalker” outside was part of the exhibit where, from the last room, people inside the museum five floors up can see it outside.

“It amplifies the aspects of that work – desolation and fragility and isolation, you know, because you’re so high up in a warm room and he’s so far way in the snow,” Matelli said. ”I thought it would be quiet and sad more than terrifying and traumatizing.”

Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.



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