• Cullen and Dykman LLP Blogs

  • Archives

  • Near-Naked Sculpture Causes “Brief” Controversy at Wellesley College

    A man, clad in only white underwear briefs, has recently appeared on the campus of Wellesley College, an all-women’s liberal arts school in Massachusetts, and he’s causing quite the controversy.

    The sculpture, appropriately titled “Sleepwalker,” depicts a barefoot male, dressed in white underwear briefs, standing with his eyes closed and his arms outstretched. It was installed on Monday, February 03, 2014, as part of a Tony Matelli exhibit at the school’s Davis Museum. Davis Museum director Lisa Fischman explained that the piece was placed outside the museum on the campus to unite the exhibition with the outside world. “I love the idea of art escaping the museum and muddling the line between what we expect to be inside and what we expect to be outside.”

    However, more than 500 students have already signed a petition asking for removal of the statue, calling it an inappropriate and potentially harmful addition to the community. “This highly lifelike sculpture has, within just a few hours of its outdoor installation, become a source of apprehension and fear, triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for many members of our campus community” the petition reads. “While it may appear humorous, or thought-provoking to some, it has already become a source of undue stress for many Wellesley College students, the majority of whom live, study and work on campus.”

    Alternatively, some members of the community view “Sleepwalker” as an entertaining addition to the Wellesley campus. “Students stop to interact playfully with the sculpture. They take selfies with him, snap pics with their phones, and gather to look at this new figure on the Wellesley landscape—even in the snow,” said Museum Director Fischman.  Ali Rondeau, a college freshman, said she understood why some students were getting upset, but “for most people, it doesn’t seem like a problem. They see it as an innocent, albeit weird feature on campus.” English professor Sarah Wall-Randell stated she “finds the statue disturbing, but in a good way. I think it’s meant to be off-putting – it’s a schlumpy guy in underpants in an all-women environment.”

    So far, officials from Wellesley College said they have no plans to remove the controversial sculpture, which is supposed to remain in place until July 20, 2014 for the duration of the Matelli exhibit. In a joint statement, President H. Kim Bottomly and Museum Director Fischman said, “As a woman’s college, Wellesley has a long tradition of discourse and dialogue, and we are proud that ours is a campus where challenging issues can be explored in a supportive environment, with respect and sensitivity, and with the intellectual rigor for which the Davis Museum and the Art Department are known.” They said the sculpture “has started an impassioned conversation about art, gender, sexuality, and individual experience, both on campus and on social media.”

    In light of this recent controversy, institutions should review their policies to make sure that they balance creative expression and the interests and opinions of enrolled students.

    If your institution has questions or concerns about this topic and you would like further information, please email James G. Ryan at jryan@cullenanddykman.com or call him at (516) 357-3750. This article was written with Hayley Dryer, an associate at the firm.