|Richard Serra's "Tilted Arc"|
BOSTON — When Sruthi Narayanan, a Wellesley College senior, first saw a nearly naked man who appeared to be stumbling on campus, she assumed he was a drunk, about to be arrested.
The sculpture, “Sleepwalker,” is 5 feet 9 inches tall and made of epoxy, fiberglass and paint. The figure, with a bit of a paunch, is clad only in tight white briefs. His arms are stretched out in front of him, his face reddened and miserable. The work, by the Brooklyn artist Tony Matelli, was commissioned by the Davis Museum at the college as part of a solo exhibition of Mr. Matelli’s work, called “New Gravity.”
The appearance of “Sleepwalker” along a busy thoroughfare on Monday stoked anger among some of the students at this all-women’s college in Wellesley, Mass. They swiftly took to the Internet to petition the school to move the statue indoors. By Thursday afternoon, the petition had more than 500 supporters.
An explanation of the petition, which was started by two students, Lauren Walsh and Zoe Magid, calls the sculpture “a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for some members of our campus community.”
What if it were a sculpture of a black man? Would the students have dared mention it "triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault?" Fortunately for the feminists, it looks like a drunk fraternity boy from MIT, so that's not a problem. Here's the petition against the piece of Plop Art:
The sculpture of the nearly naked man on the Wellesley College campus is an inappropriate and potentially harmful addition to our community that we, as members of the student body, would like removed from outdoor space immediately, and placed inside the Davis Museum. There, students may see the installation of their own volition.
Within just a few hours of its outdoor installation, the highly lifelike sculpture by Tony Matelli, entitled “Sleepwalker,” has become a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for some members of our campus community. While it may appear humorous, or thought provoking to some, the “Sleepwalker” has already become a source of undue stress for a number of Wellesley College students, the majority of whom live, study, and work on campus.
As the sculpture was placed in a highly trafficked location, it is difficult for students wishing not to see the “Sleepwalker” to travel to the campus center and the residential and academic quads.
While the sculpture may not trigger, disturb, or bother everyone on campus, as a community it is our responsibility to pay attention to and attempt to answer the needs of all of our community members. For those among us who find the sculpture triggering, daily activities that require moving about the campus may be seriously impeded by the nature, location, and context of the sculpture.
In signing, we assert that the undue stress that the “Sleepwalker” causes some of us is enough reason to move it inside the Davis Museum. We also stand firm that art, particularly outdoor art installations, are valuable parts of our community.
We welcome outdoor art that is provocative without being a site of unnecessary distress for members of the Wellesley College community. Further, we ask that in the future, the Davis Museum and the College notify us before displaying public art, especially if it is of a particularly shocking or sensitive nature.
Back to the NYT:
In an interview, Ms. Narayanan, who signed the petition, said on Thursday, “I know people who have had triggering responses to the statue.” She added, “The statue was put in a public place without students’ consent.”
The reaction has pitted students concerned with their peers’ discomfort against the college administration, which has focused on the sculpture as a catalyst for discussion.
“The community is debating everything from compassion to censorship, to freedom of expression and the significance of safe spaces,” said H. Kim Bottomly, the college’s president, in a statement on Thursday. She said the students who led the petition were going to meet on Thursday with Mr. Matelli and Lisa Fischman, director of the Davis Museum.
Ms. Fischman said she intended to keep it on public view until the exhibition ends in July. She wanted the sleepwalker to be male, she said, partly because she thought a female sculpture would seem too exposed.
“I was completely taken aback by this response,” said Ms. Fischman, who hopes to use the discussion around the work as “a teachable moment” on “creative freedom and what it means to honor that on campus.”
The reaction to the sculpture also surprised Mr. Matelli, who said he intended the sculpture to be a vulnerable depiction of a man, in contrast with the aggressive, monumental figures that are more typically wrought in statues of men.
“What they see in the sculpture is not in the sculpture,” said Mr. Matelli, who added, “If you have bad feelings toward this and it’s triggering you, you need to seek sympathy, you need to seek help.”
Dude, to say stuff like that, Tony Matelli better be some kind of Hispanic rather than Italian name, and you better be wearing a dress or at least be gay.
So, I went to Google to find out about Mr. Matelli and this immediately came up:
Oh, that's convenient of Google. They've taken to putting up a rainbow symbol to instantly tell you who's gay or not. So, Mr. Matelli's got that going for him in his war with the Wellesley feminists, which is nice.
But then it occurred to me to test my assumption:
So, this rainbow flag is not a handy new feature to confirm your gaydar, it's just Google demonstrating World War G solidarity against all those homophobic Russian figure skaters, or something.
Anyway, Mr. Matelli doesn't wear a dress, looks like a white guy, and specializes in really ugly sculptures.
The NYT gives the feminists the last word:
Ms. Narayanan said she was frustrated that students’ concerns about the work’s impact on students have not been addressed. “It sort of feels like the big point here is that students’ emotions to [sic] the statue are being pushed aside in favor of having a discussion about art,” Ms. Narayanan said.
I'm betting on the feminists over the postmodernists in this scrap. But we shall see. There may be trump cards yet to be played. The feminists have the jargon, but the modern art promoters have the money (what are the odds that a major Wellesley donor is also a major Tom Matteli collector?), plus the big money art collectors are hardly hurting when it comes to hiring academics to make up jargon for them (e.g., "transgressive"), either. So we shall see.