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February 6, 2014 4:27 AM   Subscribe

Bizarrely Life-Like Statue Of Man In Underwear Spooks Mass. Women's College (PHOTOS)

A bizarrely realistic statue of a man sleepwalking in his underwear on campus at Wellesley College, a women's liberal-arts school, has left some students unsettled and upset.

The sculpture titled "Sleepwalker" is a part of a Tony Matelli's "New Gravity" exhibit at the school's Davis Museum.


A junior at Wellesley has started a Change.org petition demanding the statue be removed from campus because many found it disturbing.

With respect to his choice of attire for the man, Matelli said it just made sense.

“It just seemed like a natural thing for him to get out of bed in. So, narratively it works,” he said. “The tighty-whites are — in and of themselves — kind of iconic.”
posted by KokuRyu (261 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Do somnambulists actually walk that way? It seems primed for a bit of creative vandalism to make it look more like a zombie.
posted by planetesimal at 4:38 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


So is the performance art aspect of this piece where every student calls the campus police about a creepy pervert/sex offender and the police come out to investigate until they get used to it and treat it as a chicken little situation, and then when some guy actually does wander around their campus in his tighty whiteys the cops don't respond?
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:42 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Why has he not been yarnbombed yet?

For Christ's sake, people, it's cold! Get him a scarf!
posted by Katemonkey at 4:46 AM on February 6 [79 favorites]


It's kind of surprising the campus art museum would be willing to troll the micro-oppressions set so aggressively. The director and curator of this exhibition must feel they have a LOT of job security.
posted by MattD at 4:48 AM on February 6 [15 favorites]


and then when some guy actually does wander around their campus in his tighty whiteys the cops don't respond?

Actually, for your extrapolation to be correct, the actual "perv/sex offender" would have to be standing completely still with arms outstretched, in a highly visible area.

Wait, that doesn't seem like a realistic scenario.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:51 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]


It would be easy to say something glib like "Good art should be intrusive and test boundaries," but it can be hard to realise what kind of intrusion you're making, or where the boundaries are that you're testing. Sometimes they can be in a very different place than you think. The artist's statements showed no kind of awareness of the reasons that people were disturbed by this piece or any interest in mitigating that effect. Still, you can imagine him feeling that artistic provocation is important and that it should trump an absolute focus on comfort, happiness and well-being. That's one thing (and an easy enough one to say from a priveleged position). But it shouldn't be something the school faculty went along with so easily; their responsibility is to promote student wellbeing to the best extent they can, not to test how far they can compromise it before they hurt people, artistic merit or no.
posted by Drexen at 4:55 AM on February 6 [26 favorites]


The "many found it disturbing" link leads to a 404.

My first thought was of people seeing it from a distance and worrying there's a mostly naked person standing in the snow.
posted by NoraReed at 4:57 AM on February 6 [9 favorites]


I don't think it's realistic that Wellesley women will suddenly stop noticing creepy men lurking around in their underwear. I think the bigger problem is many Wellesley women will constantly feel creeped out, and that sucks.

Women in our society are encouraged, explicitly or otherwise, to develop a spidey-sense for personal safety. We must be aware of what reads as "dangerous", and avoid it, or else (according to society) it is our fault when we are assaulted. (See: the whole Schroedinger's Rapist thing) Whether or not we've individually had traumatic incidents in our pasts, certain things trigger that spidey-sense. Someone staring. Someone standing still and just watching things where it doesn't make sense for them to be. Someone acting severely unstable such that their behavior might be completely unpredictable or dangerous -- like a person standing in their underwear in the snow and brutal cold. No matter how rationally we explain to ourselves that it's not actually a threat, when we encounter a situation like that, the hair on the back of our necks still stands up and we feel uncomfortable and anxious. I once worked with a guy on the autism spectrum with some accompanying disorders; he was a super nice, sweet guy, but he had an issue with doorways where he MUST let someone else walk through the door in front of him while he stood there.. and he had a tendency to stare intently. So every time I went through a door when he was around I had the sense that someone was behind me, just standing there, staring. And while I 100% knew he was no threat to me, it set off every alarm bell I had, every time -- because that kind of behavior from other people (especially men bigger than us), we are taught, is possibly a prelude to something worse and it's on us to remove ourselves from the situation.

So yeah. I'm sympathetic to the women at Wellesley who want this thing gone. I'm all for art to be disturbing and provocative, but preferably not out in an area where I am supposed to feel safe. If every time I drove by this thing, walked within line of sight of it, or whatever, I catch it out of the corner of my eye and my spidey-sense starts tingling and I get that "GET YOURSELF OUT OF HERE!" impulse inside me, on the very campus I selected because I felt it would be a safe, supportive space to spend four years... yeah, that sucks.
posted by olinerd at 5:08 AM on February 6 [81 favorites]


When I was in college, we had a realistic sculpture, cast in bronze, of a little old lady sitting on a bench and knitting. As innocent as the subject was, and even though we all knew it was there, it regularly scared the hell out of us to see it in our peripheral vision as we staggered drunkenly across the campus in the wee hours of the morning.

I can only imagine how freakish it must be to come across this monstrosity. Someone in a state of altered consciousness is going to attack it out of sheer terror, and I won't blame her one bit.

Realistic human statues on college campuses: Just say no.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:13 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Except for the shaved head it kinda looks like famous sleepwalker Matt Birbiglia.
posted by mullacc at 5:14 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


So my question is why wasn't it a woman, in a similar thing that women sleep in (i.e. underpants and a top).

Because that is the thing, if I was on a women's campus, I'd be like, *some poor thing is sleep walking, get help* and then touch the statue, and ha ha, boundaries tested.

This is testing boundaries like: *you assume guy is dangerous and probably high, get freaked, and call security* what boundary is tested there.
posted by angrycat at 5:19 AM on February 6 [30 favorites]


The director and curator of this exhibition must feel they have a LOT of job security.

Did you read about Brandeis and the flap about their museum a few years ago? I think they're feeling pretty confident.
posted by Melismata at 5:21 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


He needs a traffic cone on his head
posted by Monkeymoo at 5:23 AM on February 6 [9 favorites]


Yeah, given the artists' explanation in the main link, this would be another example of universalizing male experience and perspective most places it could appear, which is meh, but whatever. But for the specific placement on a women's college, is a little more collosally tone-deaf.
posted by eviemath at 5:25 AM on February 6 [21 favorites]


Maybe they should just double down and schedule an outdoor Ron Mueck exhibition next, complete with 3X life-size senior citizens on the beach.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:29 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


angrycat - an image search on artist Tony Matelli's name shows that he had done a female version of the same pose and state of undress. First, a male with hair, 1998, female version 2009, and then mr baldy 2013/2014.
posted by King Sky Prawn at 5:30 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


The layer of snow is perfect!
posted by R. Mutt at 5:30 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


What gets me is that there seems to be no conception by either the sculptor or the museum director that this statue has been completely removed from all context of the exhibit, or indeed anything else. "So narratively, it works" explains the tighty-whities, but it doesn't explain why it needs to be outside the building, across the street, and either unlabeled or labeled in such a manner that you need to be extremely close to it.

Which is why it really boggles my mind how the museum director, who is also a woman, seems either completely oblivious or almost maliciously dismissive of what other women are telling her. What, you can't understand how a dude clothed in underwear with arms outstretched can be a disturbing and/or triggering image? You work at a school with over 2,000 women, which means that, even by conservative estimates, several hundred of your students (and a good number of faculty and staff) would have been the victims of sexual abuse or assault, or attempts of same. It's pretty much inevitable that a dude stumbling around in his skivvies is something that a number of them have had personal, horrifying experiences with. These women are telling you they have to find alternate routes to their classes and other buildings, and you're all "but art is meant to be challenging!" Fuck that noise. Art can be transgressive, but this seems almost agressive.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:31 AM on February 6 [27 favorites]


This piece at Orlando International also turns a few heads.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:33 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


angrycat - an image search on artist Tony Matelli's name shows that he had done a female version of the same pose and state of undress.

I hope the difference between the two situations doesn't really need to be explained here.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:33 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Maybe I've just been watching too much of The Walking Dead, but I'm with planetesimal, that thing is ripe for zombie-fication. I mean, it's a college campus, don't statues generally get messed with pretty much immediately?
posted by quaking fajita at 5:33 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I hope the difference between the two situations doesn't really need to be explained here.
True, I'm just giving some information.
posted by King Sky Prawn at 5:35 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


"It's pretty much inevitable that a dude stumbling around in his skivvies is something that a number of them have had personal, horrifying experiences with."

Middle-aged dude, no less.

The artist's goals and the objections of the students do not necessarily collide. He could have realized his aim in a way that didn't elicit fears of sexual assault.

On first seeing this, I was initially inclined to support the artist, as I usually am in these sorts of things, but this particular piece just didn't need to be what it is to do what he intended.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:35 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Middle-aged dude, no less.

Dad?
posted by R. Mutt at 5:38 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Still, you can imagine him feeling that artistic provocation is important and that it should trump an absolute focus on comfort, happiness and well-being. That's one thing (and an easy enough one to say from a priveleged position).

This piece doesn't seem to smack of privilege. It smacks of hey here's an interesting shape that goes along with my other sleepwalking sculptures. The museum director placed the piece where it is, not the artist.

That being said, I can understand the motion to move the piece back into the museum. It creeps me out, too.
posted by GrapeApiary at 5:41 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Overreaction IMO. And regarding this 'triggering' thing - you would hope that anyone that had been traumatised at any point by a man in underpants would have common sense enough to recognise this for a piece of art. What do they do at the pool or the beach?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:41 AM on February 6 [11 favorites]


Huh, I think it's a bizarrely fascinating piece of art, but it's clearly in the wrong venue. I mean, come on.

If I had my way I would put it in a fancy art museum next to classical statues.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:42 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


The artist's goals and the objections of the students do not necessarily collide. He could have realized his aim in a way that didn't elicit fears of sexual assault.

After doing the image search King Sky Prawn suggested, I find it interesting that this seems to be the only time the Sleepwalker piece has been exhibited outdoors, or at the very least it has been exhibited indoors prior to this, which means that the placement isn't essential to the exhibit.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:43 AM on February 6


90% of this problem could be solved by making it an INDOOR statue. It'd still be startling and off-putting, but contained, better-lit, and more obviously inanimate.

That thing stumbling around naked outdoors is just hella creepy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:44 AM on February 6 [14 favorites]


I'm extremely disappointed that the statue hasn't been yarn bombed, traffic coned or something to mock it. What's become of our college campuses?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:45 AM on February 6 [19 favorites]


The world is crying out for a gender-switch horror version of Mannequin.
posted by biffa at 5:46 AM on February 6


[One comment deleted. Please don't derail with sarcasm about the word "trigger." Thanks.]
posted by taz at 5:46 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Look out, it's the patriarchy!
posted by phaedon at 5:47 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Look out, it's the patriarchy!

In its underwear!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:47 AM on February 6 [9 favorites]


Yeah man, when I was in school, this thing would've needed a 24 hour living, breathing non-tighty-whitey clad guard on it, because it would've been a constant target. I weep for this cloistered generation. Maybe their parents will come and vandalize it for them.
posted by nevercalm at 5:49 AM on February 6 [79 favorites]


At most college campuses such a statue would have acquired all manner of hilarious clothing already, faster than it can be removed.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 5:50 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


I had, for a while, a manikin (male, dressed) in my bathroom. It didn't look realistic, but it still freaked out guests. When I started working out of my home, I removed it to the kitchen so clients using the bathroom would be spared the experience.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:51 AM on February 6


No one looked twice at this guy in yale back ally...
posted by sammyo at 5:55 AM on February 6


As the person in charge of protecting and watching over a university full of sculpture, I have many mixed emotions about this conversation. I will say that I'm surprised he hasn't gained a scarf or hat, but due to my school's demographics, I worry more about art that can be climbed and all the art after a football game, win or lose. Hats can be removed. A bronze that has has a pizza mashed into it needs a conservator to restore the patina.
posted by PussKillian at 5:55 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Going to school at a Big Ten University that had seriously cold temperatures and a serious party culture, I actually saw situations involving poorly dressed people drunkenly tramping around or lying in the cold snow. I always called the police. So yeah, I'd call the police if I happened to come across this at night. And if it really were a sculpture, it would have already been vandalized pretty heavily at my school.
posted by melissam at 5:57 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


When I was a very small child we were in (or around) Boston (or Providence, maybe) when I encountered a couple of people dressed as apes promoting one of the Apes movies (I'm thinking it was probably Escape) and completely lost my shit. Christ, I still have nightmares about that ape.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:04 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


How is it possible this wasn't instantly, irreversibly vandalised? I'm super-uptight and I'D struggle not to do something amusing to it. An entire college full of drunk students, how does it still have a head?
posted by Erasmouse at 6:04 AM on February 6


I'm just as glad I don't have to dodge this thing on the way to work because it is hella creepy and the lack of context would bug me. That said, should the urge strike you to decorate outdoor art, just remember that it's probably some underpaid student worker or entry-level staff that has to clean up your mess and the school has to pay for the insurance/damages-- just be considerate.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:05 AM on February 6 [7 favorites]


I feel for these women because I also think the sculpture is freaky, and that the folks in charge are tone deaf, but I also must acknowledge that the students aren't doing much to mitigate the statues' creepiness. Putting animal-print pants or shorts on the guy would probably help, as would hundreds of Mardis Gras necklaces.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:05 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I worked at Smith (women's college in Western MA) for a while and I like to think that Smith students would have creatively (and non-permanently) vandalized enhanced this piece the first night it went up.
posted by rtha at 6:09 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


I encountered a couple of people dressed as apes promoting one of the Apes movies (I'm thinking it was probably Escape) and completely lost my shit. Christ, I still have nightmares about that ape.

This morning at Back Bay station there was a guy in a bear suit playing a keytar, so I totally understand why you'd be disturbed.

Yeah, I'm kind of disappointed nobody has vandalized or pranked this statue yet. Maybe because it's so controversial there is a constant police presence?

I live near there. I should swing by and put a Metafilter t-shirt on it or something. But then there would be two creepy middle aged guys on campus.
posted by bondcliff at 6:09 AM on February 6 [7 favorites]


There is a tacky "life-like", but really more like a bad store mannequin statue in Morristown NJ.
It is supposed to be Morris Frank who started the Seeing Eyes and his guide dog Buddy, but like the sleep walker in tighty whities, it is painted in such a way that it is sort of a bad joke.The dog looks real, the man, not so much.
https://www.google.com/#q=seeing+eye+statue+morristown
posted by mermayd at 6:10 AM on February 6


I'm weird in that I detest statues and figurative public art of almost all stripes except in dedicated memorial sites and structures (and even then, I prefer abstraction to figuration, the Vietnam War Memorial does a lot more for me than the Lincoln, Stonehenge more than Mt,. Rushmore, etc.).

This is just an tremendous case of why.

If course it's art. So what? I don't want to be challenged by someone else's idea of an experience I'm supposed to have when I'm at work any more than I want to spend ten minutes listening to some street solicitor trying to coax ten bucks out of me for the sick children or some performer obstructing my awareness or impeding my passage with crazy dancing.

The public space should be value neutral to whatever extent possible. Buildings serve a useful function. Statues do not. Name a fucking building after yourself if you want to send a message to the world.
posted by spitbull at 6:11 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]


Oh and for me that goes double for university campuses. Hell, I detest leafy quads. They speak loudly of upper class romanticism to me.
posted by spitbull at 6:13 AM on February 6


I like it.
posted by dydecker at 6:13 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Also, I make one exception for the statue of SRV in Austin.
posted by spitbull at 6:13 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I read the thread without clicking the link and was thoroughly on the "art!" side of the argument, then I clicked the link and Jiminy Christmas that thing is creepy.
posted by Shepherd at 6:19 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


I think the only mistake here was in placing a realistic life-sized model out in a public space with no context or explanation.

If the statue were 15 ft high, or bright orange, or upside-down, or had some other feature that made it recognisably 'different' enough from base reality to be perceived as art, I don't think anyone would have a problem. Even a row of three or more similar figures would probably be enough to make the context more apparent.

Unfortunately it's very hard to draw a line here between a legitimate art installation and a prank designed to frighten people. That art should sometimes be confrontational is (I think) a given, but in some ways this particular installation is a bit like staging a fatal road accident as a piece of performance art and expecting bystanders not to be traumatised.

I do like it as art, but would I want to be surprised by it late at night when I'm on my own? Probably not.
posted by pipeski at 6:20 AM on February 6 [12 favorites]


Hell, I detest leafy quads. They speak loudly of upper class romanticism to me.

Much more the Brutalist community college, are you?
posted by octobersurprise at 6:21 AM on February 6 [16 favorites]


This is just one of those things where okay, yes, I get that art should push boundaries, I think that probably everyone could adjust to it if they saw it day after day, I can see that it does interrogate some stuff about bodies we consider desirable/worthy-of-display rather than gross/creepy....but it's still totally a christ-what-an-asshole situation. Something does not need to be Absolutely Wrong According To Feminism to just be kind of jerky, tone-deaf and an unpleasant addition to public culture.

If the art on campus isn't enjoyed by most of the students most of the time, what is the point of having it? I mean hell, why not get one of the porno Koons sculptures from the nineties if you really don't care about the student experience of the art.
posted by Frowner at 6:22 AM on February 6 [12 favorites]


Currently it's about -30 C where I live, so wandering dementia patients and homeless people are in danger of freezing to death outside. It would definitely give me a jolt to see such a lifelike statue--my first instinct would be to run over and put my coat on the person, get them to come in out of the cold, and then call for medical aid. I would feel like an idiot once I realized it was fake, and probably be a bit angry. And I'd probably still get that jolt every time I saw it even if I got used to it. I don't think I'd enjoy it, even though I generally like boundary-pushing art. On preview: what pipeski said.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:23 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]


That statue creeps me right the hell out, but not because it's male: If I saw anyone in their underwear stumbling through the snow like that my first instinct would be "this person is going to die of hypothermia I need to call an ambulance right now".
posted by Ndwright at 6:24 AM on February 6 [12 favorites]


This reminds me of an Evan Penny sculpture once displayed at the student gallery of my art school. It was a hyper-real 3 foot tall woman. I was a young, fit man who enjoyed movie gore and makeup FX but this statue freaked the living fuck out of me. I was alone and there was nobody minding the gallery, so I had to keep leaving the room and then be drawn back inside again. I was like one of the ape creatures in 2001.

I like this sculpture and the outdoor setting but when you install it in what is basically the students' back yard, you've demonstrated a weird sort of deafness and you shouldn't whine if it gets vandalized.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:26 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


The discussion going on at the change.org petition is quite interesting and nuanced, and well worth reading. At least one person notes the statue has been clothed a number of times but campus police immediately remove the clothes.

Quoting Abigail Stinson from the discussion:
I, too, am discomfited by the sight of a nearly-naked man sleepwalking in a highly trafficked corner of our campus—but this does not disturb me nearly as much as the reactions I have seen and read to this art installation.

Personal discomfort is not a valid reason to remove this statue, nor is it a true criticism of the installation’s artistic value. (For an interesting take on the role of personal preference in art appreciation, see Eleanor Catton’s excellent article on literature and elitism.) The world we live in is not black and white, but multicolored, varied, three-dimensional. Painting this dispute as a case of the white patriarchy asserting its dominance over us is morally reductionist and potentially harmful to the long-term development of this community; doing so slaps an easy-to-reach label on the situation without giving us time to reflect on our reactions to it. Discomfort often tells us more about ourselves than the issue that is causing it, and putting away the things that displease us without a thought is a luxury we cannot afford if we wish to develop a keener understanding of ourselves, our morals and our world.
posted by crayz at 6:28 AM on February 6 [17 favorites]


Overreaction IMO. And regarding this 'triggering' thing - you would hope that anyone that had been traumatised at any point by a man in underpants would have common sense enough to recognise this for a piece of art. What do they do at the pool or the beach?

When someone with PTSD is being triggered, they aren't acting rationally. Yes they may be able to conceptionally grasp that this is a statue, but emptionally and physically they do not recognize art, because its a much more base reaction.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:28 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Also this kind of sorta-squick realistic/parody art bugs me because I think there's this assumption that everyone everywhere always needs to be made uncomfortable in public spaces. That's one reason I'm not into this kind of exhibit - it assumes that the artist is up there as a finger-shaking teacher reminding us not to get too comfortable and always, always to be interrogating our notions of embodiment and desirability. And it's like look, I am seldom comfortable in public space, I am almost always anxious and eager to get back under cover, I assure you that my entire fucking life has been about interrogating notions of embodiment, desire and visibility. What would be productive for me in public space is actually something that validates my right to be there.

I would personally like maybe a 50 foot statue of Audre Lorde and Emma Goldman holding hands while brandishing lightning bolts, with a frieze of famous activists worked around the platform that supports the sculpture.

But seriously, this whole idea that "we" all need to be shaken out of "our" bourgeois state of ignorance and comfort really irritates me.
posted by Frowner at 6:29 AM on February 6 [84 favorites]


Is there anyone at the college that would still be surprised by this? Presumably everyone has passed by it or heard about it by now,right?
posted by BlerpityBloop at 6:30 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


It's ok, he's got some clothes on now.
posted by FreezBoy at 6:32 AM on February 6 [15 favorites]


But seriously, this whole idea that "we" all need to be shaken out of "our" bourgeois state of ignorance and comfort really irritates me.

Ditto. Especially given the reports and federal investigations in the last year of Title IX violations because of mis- and not-handling of reports of sexual assaults on campuses.
posted by rtha at 6:34 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


It's not even so much that "oooh, everyone will be triggered every time they walk by the statue". It's that when you place a statue in a public space, you're making a choice of that particular statue instead of others. You're saying "out of all the statues that we could place here to [create some kind of experience amongst staff, students and visitors] the best possible choice is a hyperrealistic sculpture of a white dude in his underwear." That is the judgment that seems so weird to me.

If there were a huge Magician's Nephew-style gallery of sculptures of humans and this were one of many, it would be a very different choice.
posted by Frowner at 6:34 AM on February 6 [13 favorites]


If it was the female version in underwear wouldn't we just be doing a riff on objectification?
posted by fistynuts at 6:35 AM on February 6 [14 favorites]


If my mother had wheels she'd be a bike.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:35 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]



Yeah, given the artists' explanation in the main link, this would be another example of universalizing male experience and perspective most places it could appear, which is meh, but whatever. But for the specific placement on a women's college, is a little more collosally tone-deaf

Hey, I went to a Women's College for a while. It's not just the triggering/fear angle. It's that there's a statue of a nearly-naked man in his underwear in the middle who appears to be drunkenly trying to embrace passing women at a Women's College. I remember the voyeuristic OHMYGODSOMANYHOTCHICKS that affected some of the guys that visited the campus. I'm not stating this well, but there's something about this particular statue that says, "I'm in the best dream ever, in which I am surrounded by girls and I'm the only dude. Hello ladies!" It's incredibly tone deaf and borderline disrespectful given its location.
posted by thivaia at 6:36 AM on February 6 [23 favorites]


Yeah man, when I was in school, this thing would've needed a 24 hour living, breathing non-tighty-whitey clad guard on it,

Perhaps this one, which used to stand unremarked upon in the lobby of the now-torn down convention centre in Milwaukee?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:36 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Looks like kitsch to me. Rather than complain to Higher Authorities, why not treat the thing like a garden gnome and play with it--yarn-bombing, dressing the statue up in ugly sweaters, posing with it and unsuitable accessories, etc..
posted by Ideefixe at 6:36 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


If it was the female version in underwear wouldn't we just be doing a riff on objectification?

Perhaps. As far as I know, though, there isn't some kind of forced choice where "sculpture of a white person in underwear, choose male or female version or lose all your funding" is on the table. One could have no statue at all! One could have a totally different statue!

There's a long list of sculptures that would not be suitable for this location and audience....again, it wouldn't be that great to have a Jeff Koons porn sculpture right there, it would be pretty tone-deaf to bring in a socialist realist sculpture of Chairman Mao or Stalin, it would be gross and unpleasant to plump down some inappropriately-acquired Pacific Northwest carving....there are so many sculptures that would be a bad idea!
posted by Frowner at 6:39 AM on February 6 [13 favorites]


Quoting Abigail Stinson from the discussion

I'm really not sure how useful porting over a discussion from that site is useful here. No one in this thread has mentioned "the white patriarchy asserting its dominance over us," for instance. And as I noted above, this seems to be the first time they decided to remove the art from all context whatsoever.

There are any of a number of movies with rape scenes, and unless it was meant to titillating, I wouldn't tell a filmmaker not to show their movie. But it would be fucked up if they just put up a screen and projected it in a random place with no warning 24/7.

Is there anyone at the college that would still be surprised by this? Presumably everyone has passed by it or heard about it by now,right?

Just because you're no longer surprised by something doesn't mean you're no longer disturbed by it.

Looks like kitsch to me. Rather than complain to Higher Authorities, why not treat the thing like a garden gnome and play with it--yarn-bombing, dressing the statue up in ugly sweaters, posing with it and unsuitable accessories, etc..

Because, as mentioned, the Higher Authorities aren't allowing it.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:39 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


But seriously, this whole idea that "we" all need to be shaken out of "our" bourgeois state of ignorance and comfort really irritates me.

Who has said this?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:41 AM on February 6


Change the whole context of the thing and put a bed right in front of him. This way, he's almost made it safely! Except put the cat right where he's about to make his next step. That way, there's an element of chaos in the mix. This thing contains multitudes.
posted by jquinby at 6:44 AM on February 6 [27 favorites]


I'm a women's college alum, from a school with a proud tradition of sculpture decoration no less. Some of the "these students are over-reacting" comments in this thread make me very sad indeed.

I have a lot of deeply ambivalent thoughts and feelings about my college experience, both academically and socially. One unambiguously good thing about it, though, was being in a space where pointing out the million little micro-aggressions women face every day would get you support and not lead immediately to a "what about the menz" derail. Open discussions about feminism in dorm common spaces and dinner tables. Much less tolerance for gender-essentialist "but that's just how men are" explanations for asshole behavior in relationships. There's this trope that women's colleges leave women entirely sheltered and unfit for the "real" world, but I've found that my experience has, if anything, made me more comfortable recognizing and calling out misogynist behavior in my post-college life. (Ask me about my take-down of the dude who claimed that women should get paid less than men for doing the same jobs because they can get pregnant and bail at any time!)

By essentially sticking her fingers in her ears and saying "la la la, art makes people uncomfortable, sucks to be you if you're triggered" this museum director is undermining a valuable take-away that women's colleges can offer. The whole rest of the world seems intent on undermining women's experiences of oppression, claiming that PTSD triggers can't possibly be *that* bad. Why invalidate these feelings and experiences yet again, in a space where women are learning that their voices really do matter?
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:50 AM on February 6 [38 favorites]


I believe the solution here is that they should give him to me.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:57 AM on February 6 [7 favorites]


This strikes me as one of those situations where I don't really understand the upset feelings about it but don't really see any reason to not act anyway and take the statue away if it is triggering or bothering so many people on campus. I don't have to get it.
posted by josher71 at 6:58 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Because, as mentioned, the Higher Authorities aren't allowing it.

Well, that certainly would have dissuaded me when I was a college student.
posted by Slothrup at 6:58 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


VANDALIZE

Someone should vandalise the fucker, then we'll see which boundaries are crossed.
posted by marienbad at 6:59 AM on February 6


I'm amazed by the idea that the appropriate reaction to a creepy-as-fuck piece of public art is to vandalize it.
posted by winna at 7:01 AM on February 6 [9 favorites]


Those are neither tight nor all that white.
posted by srboisvert at 7:04 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


FreezBoy: "It's ok, he's got some clothes on now."

winna: "I'm amazed by the idea that the appropriate reaction to a creepy-as-fuck piece of public art is to vandalize it."

They could have at least given it some longjohns or something.
posted by zarq at 7:04 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Can't they just let some Wellesley students clothe the statue and be done with it? It doesn't permanently damage the statue. In fact, it represents a less censorious alternative than the demand to remove the statue altogether. If I were the artist, I might actually find people's decision to clothe my statue as amusing, as proof that people cared enough to "engage" with my art.

I just feel a yarnbombing or giving the guy a wacky outfit is the best possible happy medium in this situation, because I don't want to dismiss people's legitimate fears and triggers, but I don't want to set a precedent either where you give people the right to object to any piece of public art that makes them uncomfortable, because then you'll get religious people objecting to blasphemous/secular art, homophobes objecting to homoerotic art etc. etc.
posted by jonp72 at 7:05 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


But how is clothing the statue any different than John Ashcroft putting a drape over a nude statue at press conferences?
posted by BlerpityBloop at 7:08 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


I don't know that it would help. The pose is creepy, it's in a deeply strange location for that specific piece, and for me making it more realistic by giving it clothes would make it even more creepy.

That statue in that place is deliberately hostile. I can understand wanting to deface it but it would effectively be punishing the wrong people.
posted by winna at 7:09 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


I just feel a yarnbombing or giving the guy a wacky outfit is the best possible happy medium

Better yet, get a bunch of people together and build an entire three-story garden apartment building around him so he can sleepwalk in the safety of his own bedroom. Let homeless people live in the other apartments. If this is art, then so is that, and that way everybody wins.
posted by Naberius at 7:10 AM on February 6 [9 favorites]


Why is something like "job security" relevant? Whether the statue should stay or go is one thing, but someone should also be fired because of it?
posted by Brocktoon at 7:11 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Can't they just let some Wellesley students clothe the statue and be done with it?

Because once you start on that road, you just can't stop.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:11 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Someone just needs to put a similarly lifelike and underweared statue of Kim Bottomly out in front of the sleepwalker.
posted by pracowity at 7:12 AM on February 6


It would be easy to say something glib like "Good art should be intrusive and test boundaries," but it can be hard to realise what kind of intrusion you're making, or where the boundaries are that you're testing. Sometimes they can be in a very different place than you think. The artist's statements showed no kind of awareness of the reasons that people were disturbed by this piece or any interest in mitigating that effect. Still, you can imagine him

I've been thinking on and off about this since I read about it yesterday. I'm in favor of art pushing boundaries. At the same time I feel personally that I like to know if what I am looking at is art or a mentally ill person who is going to freeze to death. And I feel like deciding to make this particular decision is an active decision to make some people uncomfortable in public. And the people you are making uncomfortable are, likely, people who have already been through some shit. That's sort of not cool. That said, I can see the logical extension of my ideas is that people basically get neutral everything in public forever and I have mixed feelings about that as well. It's effective, if annoying, art to me.

My feeling, for what it's worth, is that people are going to continue to call the cops about the mentally ill person who is going to freeze to death until this thing becomes a public nuisance and someone does something about it (puts it in a place where it's more clearly contextualized as art)
posted by jessamyn at 7:14 AM on February 6 [10 favorites]


It's ok, he's got some clothes on now.
posted by FreezBoy at 8:32 AM on February 6 [2 favorites +] [!]


Somehow, the clothes made him more creepy.
posted by elmer benson at 7:15 AM on February 6


BlerpityBloop: But how is clothing the statue any different than John Ashcroft putting a drape over a nude statue at press conferences?

Ashcroft also came to my mind when I read jonp72's comment. But how is the Ashcroft approach any better than removing the thing?
posted by biffa at 7:16 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Yeah, there's not too much point sniping at a post from a different conversation, but:

Personal discomfort is not a valid reason to remove this statue, nor is it a true criticism of the installation’s artistic value.

The piece's artistic value, or otherwise, or "what discomfort tells us", are not the only issue that determines what is or isn't appropriate to put in the middle of a campus or any other public space. Reacting to the personal discomfort of other people is not just valid, it's necessary -- unless you're an asshole. Sometimes it's okay for an artist to be an asshole like that. But a faculty? Not so much.
posted by Drexen at 7:19 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


[Just a reminder that trolling is discouraged on MetaFilter.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:19 AM on February 6


But seriously, this whole idea that "we" all need to be shaken out of "our" bourgeois state of ignorance and comfort really irritates me.

Who has said this?


The whole discourse of "art should [generically] 'push boundaries'" is about assuming that all "our" boundaries are bad and need to be pushed - that, in fact, not wanting to see semi-naked-white-dude art every day is asserting a boundary that should not be there. After all, what valid reason could someone possibly have for not wanting to see this piece of art? It's about assuming that "we" all share the same boundaries, and I don't think it's flying in the face of 20th/21st century art discourse to say that those boundaries are figured as limiting, bourgeois and widely shared.
posted by Frowner at 7:20 AM on February 6 [12 favorites]


But how is clothing the statue any different than John Ashcroft putting a drape over a nude statue at press conferences?

It's different because Ashcroft wanted to cover up a NUDE, LASCIVIOUS BOOB and the Wellesley students want to get rid of/mock a creepy, offputting statue that's in poor taste and which the faculty has only defended with platitudes.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:22 AM on February 6 [12 favorites]


My feeling, for what it's worth, is that people are going to continue to call the cops about the mentally ill person who is going to freeze to death until this thing becomes a public nuisance and someone does something about it (puts it in a place where it's more clearly contextualized as art)

Or there will be enough whining about it until the college uses this as their get out to move it.

The problem with moving it to somewhere where it can be contextualised as art is that in doing so you potentially undermine much of the artists intention and, in more general terms, you begin a move to a point that art becomes something which is divorced from normal life, where art is not something that can have power but is merely something to be encountered only formally and on the viewer's terms.
posted by biffa at 7:23 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Wellesley is also a residential campus, so this statue is in the students' HOME, not just their school or workplace. I'm sure the museum curator leaves campus at the end of the day. The students do not; they live there. This isn't "just" a public space where people interact with public art they may like or dislike; this is ALSO a private space where 2400 young women live. It's a much more aggressive act than if this were just in a public square.

The Museum Director's response is unbelievably dismissive, right down to literally watching students interact with it from her fifth-floor (ivory tower) window and therefore feeling like she can hand-wave away negative responses.

Having lived on a (co-ed) residential walking campus for four years, even though I (thank God) had no personal experience of sexual assault, this thing is seriously a representation of my worst nightmare and I imagine a lot of women have the same reaction to it. This is literally the fear lurking in the back of your mind when you have to cross campus at 9 p.m. that makes you speed up and walk faster and listen anxiously to the hollow echo of your own footsteps hoping that you don't hear someone else's footsteps in between them.

I would not like this statue in any setting, indoors or out, but in the daytime I could mostly ignore it. I literally can't imagine having to walk past this thing in the dark.

But the museum director doesn't have to imagine it, because she gets to go home at night.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:24 AM on February 6 [49 favorites]


I often walk around a darkened museum at night, where objects are moved or installed during the day. I have had many experiences where I have been startled by human figures - cast bronze or marble doesn't bother me, but something with human looking skin absolutely hits the WARNING-HUMAN alarm. Whether the figure is male or female matters not - the one that made me jump the highest was a very realistic crouching figure of a petite nude woman who showed up one night in art storage.

I have also noticed that sculptures don't cause the same alert response if they appear to be sleeping or dead.

I wonder if part of the reason he elicits such a strong visceral response is not so much that the figure is a male clad in tighty whities, but that a human-looking figure that is standing unnaturally still automatically triggers a threat response.

If he were a real person, he would appear more vulnerable than threatening. He really does look like someone who is on the verge of dying of hypothermia - people at that stage have been known to disrobe, and those who have frozen to death have been found similarly underdressed. (I love the people who have put clothes on him, touches my heart a little.)

I can see why he would cause consternation, since not only is it a human figure but a male figure in a place where one does not expect to see one. I can't speak for all women, but when I am walking by myself, I scan for men just for safety reasons. There are a lot of reasons people would find him alarming, whether he were clothed or not, but based on my extensive experience with the residents of The Uncanny Valley I would not imagine that a female figure would be a whole lot less creepy, she would just be creepy in a different way.

I mean, I am not EVER allowed to set up my mannequin where my partner can see it, because it gives him the screaming willies and he hates it because it scares the shit out of him.

I still would totally put that dude in my yard though.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:27 AM on February 6 [12 favorites]


The problem with moving it to somewhere where it can be contextualised as art is that in doing so you potentially undermine much of the artists intention and, in more general terms, you begin a move to a point that art becomes something which is divorced from normal life, where art is not something that can have power but is merely something to be encountered only formally and on the viewer's terms.

First of all, prior versions of this installation already contextualized it, so in this case it's an excuse, not an explanation. And second of all, merely decontextualizing art is a pretty flimsy reason for something where differing contexts have real-world impacts. And on top of that, this art has been put somewhere that is either unavoidable, or causes nasty disruptions in people's routines for no good reason (and no, "women shouldn't be afraid of statues" is not a good reason).
posted by zombieflanders at 7:28 AM on February 6 [9 favorites]


The problem with moving it to somewhere where it can be contextualised as art is that in doing so you potentially undermine much of the artists intention and, in more general terms, you begin a move to a point that art becomes something which is divorced from normal life, where art is not something that can have power but is merely something to be encountered only formally and on the viewer's terms.

I think if the content communicated is "creepy almost naked guy" rather than "... being lost. It’s about being displaced. It’s literally being about asleep at the wheel," then I suspect the curator has likely misjudged the context for this particular work.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:32 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


The whole discourse of "art should [generically] 'push boundaries'" is about assuming that all "our" boundaries are bad and need to be pushed - that, in fact, not wanting to see semi-naked-white-dude art every day is asserting a boundary that should not be there. After all, what valid reason could someone possibly have for not wanting to see this piece of art? It's about assuming that "we" all share the same boundaries, and I don't think it's flying in the face of 20th/21st century art discourse to say that those boundaries are figured as limiting, bourgeois and widely shared.

This is an extremely simplistic and uncharitable reading of art in general. I would recommend actually investigating the intention of the artist and the curator, rather than superimposing a generalized artistic statement atop them.

I mean, I think the placement of this piece was hugely ill-considered, but I'm not sure that's the fault of art seeking to Épater la bourgeoisie.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:33 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


The problem with moving it to somewhere where it can be contextualised as art is that in doing so you potentially undermine much of the artists intention

Except is there evidence that in fact this statue was ever put outside away from a collection before? If not, this is actually a very different kind of use of the statue than before.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:33 AM on February 6


The people complaining aren't being trigger by anything and don't have PTSD. They are engaging in what we would all heartily agree is "concern trolling" in any other context. They find this work aesthetically displeasing and are inventing, even by the terms of the petition, people who "might" find it troubling to have it removed. This place is a bastion of privilege in its own way, and the thing about privilege is that it makes you believe that anything you don't want to see should disappear, and that you are morally superior for wanting it so. Nonsense.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:36 AM on February 6 [15 favorites]


Can't they just let some Wellesley students clothe the statue and be done with it? It doesn't permanently damage the statue.

Not as much as LEAVING IT OUT IN THE FREEZING COLD AND WET.



Also, If I were there I would put a nice dress on him. I have a really pretty one with pink and orange roses that I believe would be very flattering.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:36 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


The people complaining aren't being trigger by anything and don't have PTSD.

how do you know this
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:37 AM on February 6 [23 favorites]


Is there no sense that the statue is supposed to creep people out and that its placement is therefore working as designed? Because I have to admit I'm getting a little bit of a Tilted Arc vibe here.
posted by The Bellman at 7:38 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


The statue won't come after you as long as you don't break eye contact.
posted by dr_dank at 7:38 AM on February 6 [13 favorites]


jessamyn: "My feeling, for what it's worth, is that people are going to continue to call the cops about the mentally ill person who is going to freeze to death until this thing becomes a public nuisance and someone does something about it (puts it in a place where it's more clearly contextualized as art)"

After 9/11 the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial outside the UN triggered bunch of phone calls to the police because at dawn, dusk or night it is hard to tell that the abandoned briefcase is made of bronze. The frequency of those calls was apparently briefly increased by New York's "If you see something, say something" campaign.

If you call to report it, (my mother did once,) NYPD will patiently say, "Lady, that briefcase is part of the memorial statue. It belongs there. Thanks for your concern" which I imagine must get pretty tiresome. But it isn't as if they are going to petition the UN to take down or alter the memorial, so... there it sits, waiting for the next upstanding citizen or tourist to report an abandoned briefcase outside the UN.
posted by zarq at 7:39 AM on February 6 [22 favorites]


Interesting story, thanks zarq.
posted by jessamyn at 7:40 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Remember that video of the assholes who snuck up behind people and scared the shit out of them by speaking loudly a few inches away from them? Several people made the great suggestion that the surprised person should not try to hold in their reaction and instead make a huge stink about it, yelling and swearing for an extended period. Because the extra layer of dickishness was using social conventions to force people to deny that they'd been startled and deny them the expression of fear that they'd been caused.

So, Wellesley students can set up a telephone round-robin, and every twenty minutes or so someone reports to campus security "what looks like a guy in his underwear stumbling around in the cold". After everyone has been told that "it's some art piece", find out the home telephone number for the artist and the museum director, and call them and let them know. You wanted to provoke a reaction, and liberate art from the confines of the gallery by putting it in these students' home? Very well, here's your reaction, delivered to your home.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:40 AM on February 6 [21 favorites]


You're welcome. :)
posted by zarq at 7:41 AM on February 6


The people complaining aren't being trigger by anything and don't have PTSD. They are engaging in what we would all heartily agree is "concern trolling" in any other context. They find this work aesthetically displeasing and are inventing, even by the terms of the petition, people who "might" find it troubling to have it removed. This place is a bastion of privilege in its own way, and the thing about privilege is that it makes you believe that anything you don't want to see should disappear, and that you are morally superior for wanting it so. Nonsense.

It's always creepy when dudes not only come in and make declarative statements about the feelings and opinions women they don't know and aren't having a discussion with, let alone over the feelings and opinions of women that are (in the course of a thread) telling them what is fucked up about stuff like this.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:42 AM on February 6 [51 favorites]


Is there no sense that the statue is supposed to creep people out and that its placement is therefore working as designed?

Sure there is, but there's also a sense that the campus and its public space is there for reasons other than to make a particular artistic piece "work" by successfully creeping people out. The fact that it is specifically trying to creep people out isn't particularly a mark against it artistically, but it is a mark against it being foisted into the shared space of a whole bunch of people who have reason to be especially disturbed by it.

The people complaining aren't being trigger by anything and don't have PTSD, blah blah blah.

Your comment has no basis but your own gross attitudes.
posted by Drexen at 7:47 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


"It’s literally being about asleep at the wheel.”
Figuratively speaking ...

I'm surprised no one has demonstrated that the thing is or is not anatomically-correct by making off with the Jockeys. Adding an artistically-placed yellow stain would make a point about Art, I'm sure.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:52 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Huh, I was initially on the side of the art, too, but all you wonderful, articulate people have definitely convinced me that the students probably ought to win this one, and at least get it taken inside.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:56 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


We live in a democracy. Why not just take a vote to get rid of it or not?

You just know that eventually this thing is going to vanish anyway...
posted by freakazoid at 7:59 AM on February 6


Is there no sense that the statue is supposed to creep people out and that its placement is therefore working as designed? Because I have to admit I'm getting a little bit of a Tilted Arc vibe here.


Except that one should probably have a higher threshold for site-specificity than "I put it there because it will creep people out." Even a fancy art-speak version of that statement.

Tilted Arc was very much a site-specific piece. Removing it from its location would take it out of its context and would be essentially detrimental to Serra's intent.

Uncle Underpants wasn't designed to be placed in that space, and I am not convinced that putting him there does anything to enhance his meaning.


I am convinced that he's not supposed to be out in the elements.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:01 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


One of the things about being a man that I love is how my body is viewed as inherently repulsive and frightening.
posted by Teakettle at 8:07 AM on February 6 [13 favorites]


> The people complaining aren't being trigger by anything and don't have PTSD. They are engaging in what we would all heartily agree is "concern trolling" in any other context. They find this work aesthetically displeasing and are inventing, even by the terms of the petition, people who "might" find it troubling to have it removed.

This doesn't fit the definition of "concern trolling", which involves an appearance of sympathy. You probably want to be accusing them of "hypersensitivity". That's really just a technical rhetorical quibble, though it does give your comments a weak base to build upon.

> This place is a bastion of privilege in its own way, and the thing about privilege is that it makes you believe that anything you don't want to see should disappear, and that you are morally superior for wanting it so. Nonsense.

Let's apply your standards to your own arguments: So, by your standards, we should dismiss your argument as nonsense. Done.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:09 AM on February 6 [12 favorites]


One of the things about being a man that I love is how my body is viewed as inherently repulsive and frightening.

Except its not inherent, as the comments here make clear: what's problematic about this is the context and presentation, which are not inherent at all and purely contingent things.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:09 AM on February 6 [15 favorites]


[As per always, comments about MeFi in general go to MetaTalk not here, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:12 AM on February 6


One of the things about being a man that I love is how my body is viewed as inherently repulsive and frightening.

Hey guys, have you heard that this is all about the men? You don't even have to bring it up, they'll do it for you!
posted by zombieflanders at 8:12 AM on February 6 [27 favorites]


Heh: Turns out he’s a Miley Cyrus fan.
posted by 0 at 8:12 AM on February 6


My feeling, for what it's worth, is that people are going to continue to call the cops about the mentally ill person who is going to freeze to death until this thing becomes a public nuisance and someone does something about it (puts it in a place where it's more clearly contextualized as art)

Other than people deliberately trolling the police, as in benito.strauss's example, is this realistically a concern? A given student might make that mistake once, if looking across the quad at night during winter is the first they've seen or heard of the statue and they don't take a second to realize that it's standing inhumanly still, but not a second time. I doubt that there's anyone on the campus who isn't aware of the statue, at this point.
posted by kafziel at 8:15 AM on February 6


Many of the objections seem to be to the array of reactions that might accompany only the initial viewing by an uninformed viewer. I wonder if the unwelcome feelings decrease substantially upon subsequent viewings or even might be prevented altogether if the viewer is forewarned by, say, a national outcry.

BTW, Norman Rockwell caught me by surprise on a recent trip back to my little hometown. Apparently, even in the appropriate context, these life-like sculptures aren't too popular.
posted by klarck at 8:16 AM on February 6


Were the students given a heads-up prior to installation that hey, new exhibit contains a very lifelike sculpture of a person that will be outdoors, don't be alarmed? That would pretty much solve the problem, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by desuetude at 8:19 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Hey did anyone suggest putting clothes on it yet?!?

How about vandalism?!

What thread?!?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:21 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


One of the things about being a man that I love is how my body is viewed as inherently repulsive and frightening.

Then don't walk around in public in your drawers.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:24 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


> The problem with moving it to somewhere where it can be contextualised as art is that in doing so you potentially undermine much of the artists intention

So? Is the artist's intention the only relevant thing? Are artists so much more important than ordinary people that their intentions should override everything else?
posted by languagehat at 8:26 AM on February 6 [12 favorites]


Art should push boundaries. But why this boundary? Why push the boundaries that have been put in place specifically because a stimulus of this type has been linked with Bad Things? Why push the boundaries of two thousand women who have to live near this statue? That is what I would have the artist and museum director explain.

At best, it's just not cool.

desuetude, I don't think it would be that easy. This is their home, and it's intrusive to put something there and tell them, "yo I am gonna do this thing for art! Be prepared to be chill."
posted by nicodine at 8:26 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Congratulations to Teakettle for scoring the modeling gig to create this statue!
posted by planetesimal at 8:26 AM on February 6 [9 favorites]


It's not even so much that "oooh, everyone will be triggered every time they walk by the statue". It's that when you place a statue in a public space, you're making a choice of that particular statue instead of others. You're saying "out of all the statues that we could place here to [create some kind of experience amongst staff, students and visitors] the best possible choice is a hyperrealistic sculpture of a white dude in his underwear." That is the judgment that seems so weird to me.

If there were a huge Magician's Nephew-style gallery of sculptures of humans and this were one of many, it would be a very different choice.
posted by Frowner at 1:34 PM on February 6 [3 favorites +] [!]



Perhaps. As far as I know, though, there isn't some kind of forced choice where "sculpture of a white person in underwear, choose male or female version or lose all your funding" is on the table. One could have no statue at all! One could have a totally different statue!

There's a long list of sculptures that would not be suitable for this location and audience....again, it wouldn't be that great to have a Jeff Koons porn sculpture right there, it would be pretty tone-deaf to bring in a socialist realist sculpture of Chairman Mao or Stalin, it would be gross and unpleasant to plump down some inappropriately-acquired Pacific Northwest carving....there are so many sculptures that would be a bad idea!
posted by Frowner at 1:39 PM on February 6 [4 favorites +] [!]





The whole discourse of "art should [generically] 'push boundaries'" is about assuming that all "our" boundaries are bad and need to be pushed - that, in fact, not wanting to see semi-naked-white-dude art every day is asserting a boundary that should not be there. After all, what valid reason could someone possibly have for not wanting to see this piece of art? It's about assuming that "we" all share the same boundaries, and I don't think it's flying in the face of 20th/21st century art discourse to say that those boundaries are figured as limiting, bourgeois and widely shared.
posted by Frowner at 2:20 PM on February 6 [2 favorites +] [!]


What is the significance of the person depicted in the statue being white? Would a black or asian male statue be less offensive?
posted by Reggie Knoble at 8:28 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


We're designed to recognize other people, to the point that we recognize people shapes in non-human objects. So no, I don't think knowing the piece is there would reduce the level of disturbance for me in the same way that I'd stop noticing a new piece of art that wasn't human-shaped.
posted by winna at 8:29 AM on February 6


Except that one should probably have a higher threshold for site-specificity than "I put it there because it will creep people out."

I don't have an opinion on the statue one way or the other, but the thing about public art is that it is, you know, public. And if the public for whom the art was produced doesn't dig it, then there's already a pretty strong case that it shouldn't be there, especially if "provoking a reaction" is the best reason to keep it.

It's no big deal, it happens to the best of artists. Look at Serra's Vectors (not to mention Tilted Arc.)
posted by octobersurprise at 8:30 AM on February 6


Would a black or asian male statue be less offensive?

Well, it would be less privileged at least...
posted by Naberius at 8:30 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


There was a post sometime in the last six months about a public art installation in New Orleans, where the art was all...doors? Windows? Something like that. The artist set them up with the intention (I think I'm remembering this correctly) of getting people to think about where doors go, what they lead to, like that. Turned out that one of the sets was positioned in such a way that it replicated the doorway to a home that had be destroyed by Katrina, and many of the locals saw this and knew this and were disturbed by it; the artist, who was not from New Orleans, was kind of horrified at what he'd accidentally done. He thought the context was A, but the context for everyone else was B. If I can find the dang thing I'll link to it.
posted by rtha at 8:32 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


"williamflewis
11 Hours Ago
my neighbor's step-sister makes $86/hr on the computer. She has been out of a job for 8 months but last month her check was $15202 just working on the computer for a few hours. view it now.
"

Now that's a lifelike simulacra that should be a source of apprehension and fear.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:34 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


josher71: "This strikes me as one of those situations where I don't really understand the upset feelings about it but don't really see any reason to not act anyway and take the statue away if it is triggering or bothering so many people on campus. I don't have to get it."

Me too. My initial reaction was to defend this piece of art and then after a few seconds thought I realized "why should I care where this statue is located". It's bothering at least some people and is essentially advertising for the exhibit. If this was a lit up neon bill board for the museum I'd be sharpening my pitchfork in support of students wanting to get rid of it.

It has also reenforced my total lack of awareness of what is creepy because I don't see the statue as being creepy at all. Another viewpoint to go in my people find this creepy checklist. Anyone who finds this statue creepy: Would a female statue with the exact same pose and clothing be creepy too?

zarq: "waiting for the next upstanding citizen or tourist to report an abandoned briefcase outside the UN."

More disturbing for the police must be thinking about the number of people who see an apparently abandoned briefcase in a sensitive area for the first time and, without knowing it's part of a memorial, don't report it.

Reggie Knoble: "What is the significance of the person depicted in the statue being white? Would a black or asian male statue be less offensive?"

Well it would add race into the discussion. The "if this was a white guy people wouldn't be complaining" card would be played almost immediately.
posted by Mitheral at 8:36 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Well if we ever need evidence that the male form is just as charged and full of predetermined meaning as the female form, we can point to this thread.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:38 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


OK, nobody likes sleepwalking dudes in their tighty whities BUT EVERYONE LOVES PONIES!
posted by louche mustachio at 8:39 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Ew, it's half naked pony.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:43 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


It's not the only work in the collection, which has a number of pieces that would be provocative on a public walk without evoking apparently unintentional readings as related to sexual violence.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:43 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Ew, it's half naked pony.


Ponies should not be ashamed of their natural bodies.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:45 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


It's different because Ashcroft wanted to cover up a NUDE, LASCIVIOUS BOOB and the Wellesley students want to get rid of/mock a creepy, offputting statue that's in poor taste.

While I personally don't see anything creepy or off-putting in the former (other than perhaps Ashcroft himself), I do struggle with an objective difference here. If there's a group of people who are offended by the visible breast on the statue of Justice, is it fair to treat this offense differently than that created by the statue at Wellesley?
posted by Slothrup at 8:46 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Not to derail but I'm sick to death of those horse heads. The half life to the horse head hilarity is over.
posted by josher71 at 8:46 AM on February 6


Is people making sculptures this realistic a new thing? This and the giant senior citizens linked above are at a level of realism I haven't seen before. Has there been some technological breakthrough?
posted by ignignokt at 8:46 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Mitheral: " Anyone who finds this statue creepy: Would a female statue with the exact same pose and clothing be creepy too?"

Yes, because of the near-human Uncanny Valley aspect of it. (I am also creeped out by those realistic baby dolls.) A woman or child statue would also startle the crap out of me every time I caught it out of the corner of my eye and creep me out. However, a female statue (same post, similar underwear) would read as less threatening to me while being equally creepy. (If it matters, I think a child statue in the same pose would be so viscerally upsetting to me that I wouldn't be able to walk past it, but I can't explain why.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:47 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


I'd be creeped out if it were a female statue, too. That thing is just creepy.

I once asked the time of Len Ganeway reading*, so it's not an innate horror of representational art. Although the difference in uncanny valley between a bronze sculpture and that... Thing is measurable in AU.

*absentminded people with poor sight represent
posted by winna at 8:48 AM on February 6


Ponies should not be ashamed of their natural bodies.

When they're of age and paying for their own damn pen they can walk around however they want. Until then, my ranch, my rules!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:48 AM on February 6 [7 favorites]


If there's a group of people who are offended by the visible breast on the statue of Justice, is it fair to treat this offense differently than that created by the statue at Wellesley?

Yes. The Spirit of Justice is aluminum, and situated in a context where it has a rather obvious meaning. Likewise, I highly doubt that her mammary triggers anyone's fear the way that underwear dude does.
posted by dhens at 8:50 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


louche mustachio: "OK, nobody likes sleepwalking dudes in their tighty whities BUT EVERYONE LOVES PONIES!"

Wow. photobucket managed to serve me 2.6MB and still not display the 111KB image.
posted by Mitheral at 8:50 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


louche mustachio: I believe the solution here is that they should give him to me.

Admit it: You just want to BOOP! him.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:52 AM on February 6


When they're of age and paying for their own damn pen they can walk around however they want. Until then, my ranch, my rules!

I hope this wasn't a typo, because the idea that the measure of adulthood is being able to buy one's own pen is making my day.
posted by winna at 8:53 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


So I'm a recent Wellesley alum and Naked Zombie has been blowing up my Facebook newsfeed. One of the things I'm seeing is that people are clothing the statue, and the clothes keep being removed. To preserve the Integrity of Art, I guess. That makes me more furious than anything else, I think -- "no, you don't get to interact with this art to make it less threatening, you're going to jolly well keep being threatened for as long as we see fit."

Also, something I don't think has come up yet is that Wellesley has had issues with flashers -- there was one when I was there. Some people apparently find the "and it's ALL GIRLS" aspect an irresistible target for their creepiness. Which makes this even more tasteless.

And I'm picturing this thing staring at me as I make my way back to the dorm at 4 in the morning when the campus is dead silent and deserted (the Wellesley campus can be very silent and very deserted) and . . . no. Just no. Even if I knew perfectly well it was a statue. Let the curator put it up in her own yard if she values artistic discomfort and provocation so much.
posted by ostro at 8:54 AM on February 6 [44 favorites]



Wow. photobucket managed to serve me 2.6MB and still not display the 111KB image.


Hmmm.

Try this?
posted by louche mustachio at 8:55 AM on February 6


I hope this wasn't a typo, because the idea that the measure of adulthood is being able to buy one's own pen is making my day.


Horse pen!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:56 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Admit it: You just want to BOOP! him.


Yes.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:57 AM on February 6


Horse pen!

Aww it makes sense that way, but I'm going to pretend it's about writing pens for the lulz.
posted by winna at 8:59 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Is people making sculptures this realistic a new thing?

Not too new. There's Duane Hanson, Ron Mueck, and Maurizio Cattelan to name a few.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:00 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I used to know a Wellesley alum who was sexually assaulted on campus. I cannot imagine her reaction to this statue.

The initial calls for 'why don't the students just cover it up/yarnbomb/etc' didn't sit well with me. I suppose it's okay as a short-term solution, but I guess it'd screw with my fight-or-flight instinct. If I was back in college and saw a half-naked guy staggering around campus, my first instinct would not be to go cover him with clothes.
posted by zix at 9:03 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


what's problematic about this is the context and presentation, which are not inherent at all and purely contingent things.

As with all art, the reactions to it are really part of the artwork, whether positive or negative. Sometimes those reactions happen long before the art happens, as in the case of some of the great works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, like "Running Fence" and "Wrapped Reichstag" (and the planned "Over the River". Reactions, context and presentation are all inherent parts of every piece of art. Sometimes interaction is as well. I can't imagine the artist of this piece not anticipating controversy, and he must have anticipated it getting dressed up by viewers. The petition itself is now part of the art. The statue's removal, if it happens, becomes part of the art. This thread is part of the art.
posted by beagle at 9:05 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


When they're of age and paying for their own damn pen they can walk around however they want. Until then, my ranch, my rules!


OH REALLY
posted by louche mustachio at 9:07 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


If there's a group of people who are offended by the visible breast on the statue of Justice, is it fair to treat this offense differently than that created by the statue at Wellesley?

I think so, because the Spirit of Justice, like the Majesty of Law across from it, isn't designed to unsettle, as in the case of the Wellesley Sleepwalking Schmuck, or titillate. "Wow, the State is awesome and fair" isn't a real sexy message.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:15 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Look, I'm just worried about you, ok?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:16 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Is people making sculptures this realistic a new thing?

Not too new. There's Duane Hanson, Ron Mueck, and Maurizio Cattelan to name a few.


Yeah, it's superrealism (aka photorealism, aka verism, aka...). Mostly started in the 1960s as a reaction against both the abstract and the (neo-)classical.

It's an artform old enough that the likes of the Chapman Brothers were subverting it twenty years ago.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:19 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Is people making sculptures this realistic a new thing?

No, most middle-ages and Renaissance church statuary was painted to look more realistic (though maybe not "this" realistic). Most of the paint has worn off over the centuries so we think of these statues as just being stone.
posted by beagle at 9:22 AM on February 6


I thought the yarnbombing bikini that was put on one of our sculptures was really cute and funny, but I still removed it (after taking a photo). I'm also grateful to the student who found the little shiny metal squirrel-shaped nutcracker and placed it next to our shiny silver Roxy Paine tree, because that's awesome and nothing was damaged. But I'm not so fond of the graffiti artists who tag our Serra, because it looks shitty and I'm the person scrubbing it off. I'm also the one getting out the big ladder to go pull stickers off the di Suvero that people climb, and the one who phons the conservators to come and restore a bronze patina on a piece because someone duct-taped a sign for a scavenger hunt onto it.

Public art in public spaces draws reactions. If this one is genuinely causing distress, than bringing it into the museum is probably the best thing to do. But I'm also a trifle calloused because I've been the recipient of a lot of complaints about a lot of sculpture, whether it's abstract (ugly, bringing property values down, not real art, a pile of junk that you snotty academics are trying to pass off as something of value) or realistic (my child shouldn't be exposed to naked people, you perverts, I demand you remove that artwork because it's inappropriate). I just end up feeling that the default response to artwork is always to remove it, and that bugs me. Maybe I'm just being insensitive. My response would probably be to get startled a few times and then be amused by it. I find the photos of him out in the snow rather hilarious.
posted by PussKillian at 9:23 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


This is my vision of the pen rule.
posted by winna at 9:33 AM on February 6


I think comparing the hyperrealistic, post-modern, and human-sized Sleepwalker to the cast-aluminum, art-deco, 12-foot, monumental, and iconographic Spirit of Justice just because there's a nipple involved doesn't make a lot of sense, except to point out how they're different art works that are designed in different ways to provoke different responses. Part of that distinction is the difference in context that Spirit of Justice was designed for the Justice Building, while Sleepwalker is part of an exhibition that uses hyperrealism to provoke dissonance and empathy.

I don't think the setting does justice to Sleepwalker either. Fear and anger doesn't appear to be the kind of dissonance that it's designed to provoke, and you might as well put it in a closet and use it as a coat rack.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:37 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Not to derail but I'm sick to death of those horse heads. The half life to the horse head hilarity is over.

Well OK then.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:37 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]


Just spraypaint it black, hang a lantern from its hands and problem solved.
posted by codswallop at 9:38 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


One of the things about being a man that I love is how my body is viewed as inherently repulsive and frightening.
You got predictably piled on, but I believe you. Our culture really does have a tendency to idealize women's bodies to the extent that "a nude woman" is a symbol interchangeable for "beauty," and to regard men's bodies as either irrelevant or inherently ugly. Both of those things hurt everyone, and while we're generally getting better at learning how to examine the first, we still tend to dismiss the latter or reinforce the dichotomy in some way. Maybe it's because the dichotomy is framed with a default male POV in mind, which is itself deeply problematic; I don't know, but it sucks. In context, though, a lifelike simulacrum of a mostly naked man in below-freezing weather on a women's college campus is inappropriately placed/timed for a number of reasons, and it's fair for people to describe that as "creepy."

I like the piece, but I think it should have been placed in a more obvious exhibit/installation. If it were me on my way to another class or something and I saw the guy outside, it would freak me out, both because I'd be very concerned for that person's safety and because I'd have to factor in my own safety. It's hard to tell from photos, but if it's built to scale, then it's probably bigger than me; which means that, yes, I'd call 911, rush out and cover him with a coat and try to get him inside, but I'd also assume mental illness or some kind of attack (either of which might make him aggressive toward me) and if I were alone that would be terrifying. I probably don't need to be terrified on my way to my next class. Knowing my history and the society I live in, I probably will be terrified on my way to my next class, so I really don't need an extra helping. Give the poor thing a good home, where he can stumble around in warmth and peace.
posted by byanyothername at 9:41 AM on February 6 [11 favorites]


Statue is fine. Placement is epic failure and actually undermines the artist's intentions.
posted by dogwalker at 9:52 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Well OK then

I lol'd.
posted by josher71 at 9:53 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


I was wondering why he looked familiar
posted by louche mustachio at 9:55 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


"and to regard men's bodies as either irrelevant or inherently ugly".

I agree with your point, but I think the reaction may have been less severe if the statue was of David Beckham's physique (and I use him because of his recent Super Bowl underwear commercial) instead of this "middle aged white dude" (though Beckham is one too)

The reason I brought up Ashcroft originally is because his solution was to cover up art that bothered him. You can argue the differences between the pieces, but it's still trying to hide something you don't like, right?
posted by BlerpityBloop at 9:56 AM on February 6


From the countless previous times that 'women only think it's creepy if he's ugly' line gets dragged out, I can assert with confidence that for a lot of us it would be more creepy in that case if possible.
posted by winna at 9:59 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


"I agree with your point, but I think the reaction may have been less severe if the statue was of David Beckham's physique (and I use him because of his recent Super Bowl underwear commercial) instead of this 'middle aged white dude' (though Beckham is one too)"

I don't. I'm very sure that you're wrong about this.

BTW, I underscored that the sculpture is of a middle-aged guy because I think that some of the people who are being triggered by this are incest survivors. That sculpture right there is basically a bunch of people's real-life worst memories.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:00 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


You can argue the differences between the pieces, but it's still trying to hide something you don't like, right?

When you ignore the differences between two things, they're exactly the same. This has been a point
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:02 AM on February 6 [13 favorites]


[Comment removed - it's really on you to make sure you don't look like you're trolling. Make an effort please. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:06 AM on February 6


“It can mean many things. I mean, art is open. Each person comes to an artwork with their own history, their own politics, their own hopes and fears and all that stuff,” he told the Post. “To me, it’s a sculpture about being lost. It’s about being displaced. It’s literally being about asleep at the wheel.”

With respect to his choice of attire for the man, Matelli said it just made sense.

“It just seemed like a natural thing for him to get out of bed in. So, narratively it works,” he said. “The tighty-whites are — in and of themselves — kind of iconic.”

Davis Museum director Lisa Fischman defended the statue's placement on campus.

"We placed the Sleepwalker on the roadside just beyond the Davis to connect the exhibition -- within the museum -- to the campus world beyond," she wrote on the school's website. "I love the idea of art escaping the museum and muddling the line between what we expect to be inside (art) and what we expect to be outside (life)."


Oh, yeah, college campus, curator wants to be 'relevant'. Or 'cutting edge' or whatever. It's not necessarily bad or good art, but 'art' escaping the museum and scaring people where they live is kind of a misuse of art.

And for students to respond with such sincere indignation scares me. You're in college, college is for hacks. Glue on a chador, give him a sombrero, at least a sorority t-shirt. Get him a lawnmower or wizard's wand. It's not just an opportunity for vandalism, it's an opportunity for political art in response. Sheesh.
posted by theora55 at 10:09 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Quoting myself: "That sculpture right there is basically a bunch of people's real-life worst memories."

...because they're college students, young women, and for those who are incest survivors, those are memories which aren't very distant in time. Later, some middle-aged guy in his underwear, out of shape and looking out-of-it, will be a humdrum part the daily lives of many of them. You know, when they're also about that age.

I don't think the people that are sensitive about this on the Wellesley campus are zero. But a larger number also have more general, but still quite valid, issues with it, per some of the comments above.

It's not really about there being something wrong with middle-aged male bodies. I have one, too. I'm not unsympathetic to being annoyed at it being the subject of disgust and ridicule, if that were what's going on here. It's not.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:09 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


You can argue the differences between the pieces, but it's still trying to hide something you don't like, right?

I think the suggestion is to move the statue into a context where it's more clearly read as an artistic work about being lost and vulnerable, rather than seen, at first glance, as a creepy and potentially violent flasher on campus.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:16 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


[Teakettle, take the day off.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:16 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


And for students to respond with such sincere indignation scares me. You're in college, college is for hacks. Glue on a chador, give him a sombrero, at least a sorority t-shirt. Get him a lawnmower or wizard's wand. It's not just an opportunity for vandalism, it's an opportunity for political art in response. Sheesh.

Again, the college/museum is removing any attempts to modify the statue. Which is doubly messed up, since they're telling people that it's all about "expression" and "discussion" and "being thought-provoking." Apparently expressing themselves or having a discussion or provoking thought isn't a two-way street if you're a student who lives and studies there.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:21 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


An art museum keeping you from vandalizing the art isn't exactly a shocking restriction on freedom of discourse.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:25 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


@rtha, I believe you're thinking of Best of All Possible Worlds, previously discussed here.

(for those who've not read it, it ties in here in the way that placement of sculpture can create new and potentially unpleasant meanings)

As far as this piece, the museum director is being an obnoxious real life troll. It's a decent piece but it doesn't belong outside without context. I'm all for art breaking free of museums, being challenging, causing people to question assumptions, etc., but this is the wrong way to go about it.
posted by Candleman at 10:31 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


It is if the art is in your front porch.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:31 AM on February 6


I don't understand the calls for the students to vandalize/accessorize the statue. A) They have been doing that anyway, and it hasn't changed anything, and B) If the story was framed as "college students don't appreciate art, rudely vandalize statue," I could easily see the response being "grow up, make a petition, learn how to go through official channels." It seems like a no-win situation for them.
posted by coupdefoudre at 10:33 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Someone should put a statue of the Headless Horseman behind the statue.

Or a finish line in front of it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:35 AM on February 6


As far as this piece, the museum director is being an obnoxious real life troll. It's a decent piece but it doesn't belong outside without context. I'm all for art breaking free of museums, being challenging, causing people to question assumptions, etc., but this is the wrong way to go about it.

Given that it's a statue of a sleepwalker, I sorta feel like a stark museum exhibit is exactly the wrong context for the piece. It should be in a place where people do walk.
posted by kafziel at 10:36 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I really don't know why he has to be outside, I just don't like the thought of people defacing or covering up art we find objectionable. Carry on!
posted by BlerpityBloop at 10:37 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


It should be in a place where people do walk.

Sure. Take it to Burning Man. Put it on a path at the Hirshhorn sculpture garden (which, importantly, is only open during the day). It's been repeatedly stated in this thread why the current location is not an appropriate one.

I'd feel the same way about the female sculpture or if either were fully clothed. From a distance it easily looks like a person in distress and that's not something appropriate to have in public spaces accessible 24/7 where people are known to get themselves into trouble.
posted by Candleman at 10:53 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


I agree with your point, but I think the reaction may have been less severe if the statue was of David Beckham's physique
I would have the same reaction regardless. Sorry if I muddled things, but I was expanding on the "men's bodies are perceived as irrelevant or ugly" tangent as something that's separate from and probably not especially relevant to this discussion, but was going unaddressed/dismissed (even if some of the replies were funny) which bugs me a little since I think it is a valid thing. However, it's only coloring the situation with the statue a little (if at all), and in ways that aren't really important. If I saw a mostly naked man out in below-freezing weather on my exclusively-female campus, his level of attractiveness wouldn't factor into my response at all. I'd still freak out over his safety, freak out over my safety, and generally act on both. Then I'd notice he's not moving and think, "Oh god, he completely froze. He's an Encino man." Then I'd notice he's not an actual human being. Not really the best way to start my morning.
posted by byanyothername at 10:55 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]


The first paragraph of the petition:
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. (emphasis added)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:00 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


It's ok, he's got some clothes on now.

But is there a rabbit in his ear?
posted by nickmark at 11:00 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Oh, there is a female sleepwalker by the same artist.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:08 AM on February 6


It should be in a place where people do walk.

Sure. Take it to Burning Man. Put it on a path at the Hirshhorn sculpture garden (which, importantly, is only open during the day). It's been repeatedly stated in this thread why the current location is not an appropriate one.


Yeah, I could see this being a really interesting installation in a lot of places. I could also see a very interesting outside installation being done of Classical-type statues at ground-level or in more "modern" poses, for example. I have no problem with nudity in art, but this particular display in this particular context seems like it's provocative for the sake of being provocative, and that it doesn't fit this particular space well.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:20 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


If I saw a mostly naked man out in below-freezing weather on my exclusively-female campus, his level of attractiveness wouldn't factor into my response at all. I'd still freak out over his safety, freak out over my safety, and generally act on both. Then I'd notice he's not moving and think, "Oh god, he completely froze. He's an Encino man."

Let's be realistic. If you were a student at Wellesly, you'd almost certainly think "Oh, it's that statue people have been talking about." and continue walking.

All the noise about what if people came across it with no idea what it was has pretty much guaranteed that nobody there ever will.
posted by kafziel at 11:22 AM on February 6


One thing that's interesting to me about the debate over this statue (here and elsewhere) is seeing how many people have changed their view on it over the course of the debate. I've seen a lot of people defend art's right to challenge and upset when they first hear about this, but then when they actually see the statute, they go "whoa, ok, I kind of see their point." Others seem to have been swayed by arguments like, it's not really in a normal public space, but really something more like the backyard/living space for thousands of women. But I think the visual impact of the statue has been the main thing, and in that regard it's a surprisingly successful piece of art, albeit one that's not doing what the artist intended, and whose benefits still don't outweigh the drawbacks: it's so viscerally creepy and easy to imagine walking past late at night on your way home that even many trigger-skeptical men can feel, looking at it, a whisper of disturbance, perhaps reinforced by its echo of hundreds of zombie movies. It's one thing to be persuaded by argument, but this thing is actually doing some of the job via art's more unique channels, direct empathy and shared experience. Again, that doesn't make it remotely worth it, but one mild all-about-the-menz upside of this mistake before it inevitably gets taken down is that I've seen a number of men not just grant the arguments, but seemingly have a better understanding of their origins after working through this mess.
posted by chortly at 11:42 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Let's be realistic. If you were a student at Wellesly, you'd almost certainly think "Oh, it's that statue people have been talking about." and continue walking

How does that square with the statements by actual Wellesley students that they have had different reactions?
posted by KathrynT at 11:46 AM on February 6 [10 favorites]


The students could put him in diapers, place a port-a-potty directly in his path, or lock a chastity codpiece onto him.
posted by jamjam at 11:57 AM on February 6


I'm not quite sure I buy the argument that people are going to mistake this statue for a real person.

Yeah, this thing might be a little startling if you caught it out of the corner of your eye, but this statue is in the middle of an open space, and depicts a figure in motion. The statue is undoubtedly firmly planted in the uncanny valley, but I don't think that you'd confuse it for a real person for more than a brief moment.

I'd definitely have different feelings about this work if it were depicting a figure lurking in the shadows...

Personally, I think there are a few issues that need to be unpacked here:

Is it OK for provocative art to be displayed in a public space that isn't necessarily devoted to art (ie. outside of a museum)?

If the above is true, is it OK for said art to feature nudity?

If the above is true, does the gender particularly matter? Is nudity implicitly sexual? Is nudity implicitly threatening?

We should be sensitive to subjects or symbols that act as triggers for others (this is not up for debate). However, triggers can take many shapes and forms. When crafting a public work of art or architecture, are there specific triggers that we should be more or less sensitive to?


I don't necessarily think that the statue's placement (at a Women's college) is particularly relevant. Are women not present at other colleges? Are men not present on the Wellesly campus? As a public space, the greater context seems irrelevant; If this statue is offensive at Wellesly, why would it not be offensive in some other ("more co-ed") public space?

And, yes. I disagree with the very first question I raised. Provocative art should be permissible, but probably isn't a good idea for public spaces. However, I also think that Americans are very bad at discussing anything even remotely connected to sexuality in public. I won't contest that this statue might be a trigger for some, but have to wonder if these things wouldn't be triggers if we weren't already uncomfortable with partially-nude statues in public. Lots of things are triggers for lots of people, and I'm not sure that banning ugly nude statues in public is a good way for us to adopt more enlightened attitudes about sexuality...
posted by schmod at 12:00 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


KathrynT: "How does that square with the statements by actual Wellesley students that they have had different reactions?"

Individuals don't have veto power over public artwork that they dislike?

Should a piece of artwork be removed unless it offends exactly zero people?

A lot of people thought the MLK memorial was offensive, because the depiction of Martin Luther King looked "too Chinese" (largely due to the nationality of the sculptor). Should the statue have been dismantled because of those objections? What's the best way to react to responses to public art? Who gets the final word?

I don't mean to pose a strawman, but I think that the general sentiment of "some people were offended" is an incredibly difficult one to address.
posted by schmod at 12:07 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Bostonglobe.com has published an interview with the artist.
posted by 0 at 12:07 PM on February 6


I'd definitely have different feelings about this work if it were depicting a figure lurking in the shadows...

This is a telling comment.

For many women, and some men, the image of a man in an open field is just as threatening to them as the image of a man lurking in the shadows is to you.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:08 PM on February 6 [11 favorites]


women are constantly told to be hyper vigilant about our own safety but then when we internalize that and have a hair trigger on our fight or flight responses we're told that we're hypersensitive and are probably making it up because reasons.
posted by nadawi at 12:10 PM on February 6 [39 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest: "For many women, and some men, the image of a man in an open field is just as threatening to them as the image of a man lurking in the shadows is to you."

Can you elaborate on this?

My point was merely that you can see it from far away.
posted by schmod at 12:10 PM on February 6


I think people might be seeing things in that work that just aren’t there. I think that those people should think through that and work through it and get to understand the work a little better, and also understand their feelings a little better. I just don’t see that in the work – I think they’re seeing something that’s just not there. (From the interview with the artist.)

See, I thought it was a really interesting interview, but this is dismissive-- it's not about what he sees in the work; it's not about not understanding their (own!) feelings.

It was placed there because you can see it from the upstairs exhibition room, and it becomes part of the show in a different way. When you see him through the window while you’re warm inside looking at the other 20 sculptures, that one feels more misplaced, and more vulnerable.

Really interesting! Still hella creepy!

I'd definitely have different feelings about this work if it were depicting a figure lurking in the shadows...

Definitely don't underestimate the number of people who are attacked/flashed by random dudes who aren't lurkers on college campuses, especially those of women's colleges.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:14 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


If the above is true, is it OK for said art to feature nudity?

I don't think that nudity is all that much of a factor, since I'm really don't think that students would be objecting to The Majesty of Justice which features nudity but is a cast aluminum, art deco work with neoclassical iconography and compositional elements.

Hyperreallism is a key part of Matelli's work. They're designed to exploit our ability to recognize those figures as human and empathize with them in a way that we wouldn't for a Man Ray abstraction of a nude, or even an art deco stylized nude.

Should a piece of artwork be removed unless it offends exactly zero people?

No. But if the context of presentation of the work conflicts with what the work is designed to communicate, then it's reasonable to change that context. Which is what the petition requests.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:17 PM on February 6


I also think the fact that it's a touring exhibition is another consideration.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:25 PM on February 6


Is it OK for provocative art to be displayed in a public space that isn't necessarily devoted to art (ie. outside of a museum)?

Isn't "sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't" the only answer to this, with those judgements being made on the basis of precisely what the art is, where it is, and what the purpose for it being there is?
posted by octobersurprise at 12:28 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Ugh, apparently the artist is "thrilled and delighted" by the reaction on campus.
posted by KathrynT at 12:29 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Ugh, that interview:
I think it’s great that students are getting engaged to write and think about it. I think if everyone spends time with it and keeps their heads cool, a lot of good will come of it.
That's one way to tell women not to worry their pretty little heads about something they just don't understand.
Everyone brings to a work of art their own interpretation, their own history and their own baggage. I think people might be seeing things in that work that just aren’t there. I think that those people should think through that and work through it and get to understand the work a little better, and also understand their feelings a little better. I just don’t see that in the work – I think they’re seeing something that’s just not there.
He just can't even be bothered to look through the other half's eyes, can he?
I’ve also done women statues – I’ve done a female Sleepwalker. This just happens to be male. It has nothing to do with this being a women’s college whatsoever. The manner is mundane and irrelevant – there’s no reason it being a man; I mean, it’s half our population. Men are not surprising in our landscape, and it should not be a surprise in any landscape.
This is just incoherent. Women are half the population, too. Plus, just because you're not surprised by it doesn't mean that anyone else isn't. I don't know how many women have to say how hyper-vigilant about assault they have to be just walking around before it sinks in. And yes, you've done a female Sleepwalker. You've also done a male Sleepwalker that didn't have to be part of the "landscape," so why now?
posted by zombieflanders at 12:29 PM on February 6 [8 favorites]


Men are not surprising in our landscape, and it should not be a surprise in any landscape.

this is so dismissive and shitty and frankly kind of threatening. a mostly naked man should not be a surprise on any landscape, not even the grounds of a women's college?
posted by nadawi at 12:32 PM on February 6 [17 favorites]


I think so, because the Spirit of Justice, like the Majesty of Law across from it, isn't designed to unsettle, as in the case of the Wellesley Sleepwalking Schmuck, or titillate. "Wow, the State is awesome and fair" isn't a real sexy message.

But what I'm getting here overall is that intentions don't matter. The fact that something is unsettling to someone is what matters. Whether it's an unrealistic boob or a realistic sleepwalker, the difference between the two works isn't as far as it might seem.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:36 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Ugh, apparently the artist is "thrilled and delighted" by the reaction on campus.

Yeah, that came off poorly, as if all he's interested in is getting a reaction with zero thought or care as to what that reaction is.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:36 PM on February 6


From the interview:

"Everyone brings to a work of art their own interpretation, their own history and their own baggage. I think people might be seeing things in that work that just aren’t there. I think that those people should think through that and work through it and get to understand the work a little better, and also understand their feelings a little better. I just don’t see that in the work – I think they’re seeing something that’s just not there."

"This just happens to be male. It has nothing to do with this being a women’s college whatsoever. The manner is mundane and irrelevant – there’s no reason it being a man; I mean, it’s half our population. Men are not surprising in our landscape, and it should not be a surprise in any landscape."


Wow, it's not even that he was being provocative on purpose -- I'm getting the feeling that this guy just did not do very much thinking about the specific implications of his site being a women's college. As far as "unsettling" art is concerned, a residential college is not just like any other nice leafy open space that people walk through. As far as representations of men are concerned, a women's college is not just like a coed college. The fact that these things seems to have informed his thinking not at all really does not speak well for his powers of imagination.
posted by ostro at 12:36 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


ostro: " a women's college is not just like a coed college."

I'm still not buying this argument.

If this art is inappropriate and threatening at Wellsey, why would it be any less inappropriate or threatening on a co-ed campus?
posted by schmod at 12:41 PM on February 6


Yet again I am vindicated in my lifelong belief that reading an artist's statement usually makes their work worse than it would be without one.
posted by winna at 12:41 PM on February 6 [10 favorites]


He just can't even be bothered to look through the other half's eyes, can he?

The "other half" are not all in agreement about this piece.
posted by 0 at 12:41 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


I wasn't talking about all women everywhere, but thanks for assuming I was.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:44 PM on February 6


winna - i was reminded of that recently with the high heels project, honey. i had seen the images just floating around tumblr, with none of the words attached and thought a couple of them were kind of neat. and then i saw the full write up - and holyfuckballs, dude has issues with women.
posted by nadawi at 12:45 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I think it’s great that students are getting engaged to write and think about it.

So he can engage the students with his art on his (and the curator's) terms, but the students cannot engage the art on their terms. One way of engaging with art is to physically comment on it, and I'd love for the artist and curator to tell students to engage away, as long as the engagement doesn't permanently alter or damage the statue. Put a Red Sox hat on it, put some arm warmers on it, whatever.

I'm still not buying this argument.

What, that a thing that is different from something else is not like that other thing? Women's colleges are different. I went to a coed school and then after graduation worked at a women's college. They're different. You don't have to "buy" anything, but yeah, they're different.
posted by rtha at 12:46 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Ok, how about Wellesley students are not agreement about this piece?
posted by 0 at 12:46 PM on February 6


Whoa I'd not seen those pieces but good lord that is like the GOLD STANDARD for that precept. Holy cow that man.
posted by winna at 12:47 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Ok, how about Wellesley students are not agreement about this piece?

Wrong again. I'm talking about the people that he dismisses as having "baggage" because they see an image that disturbs them. The way he puts it here is that he can't even conceive why anyone could be upset by it, and that if they just saw it like he does, they'd "understand their feelings a little better." Which, ew.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:51 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


But what I'm getting here overall is that intentions don't matter.

In terms of whether or not someone has the right to express their displeasure with some piece of art, no intentions don't matter; in terms of a response to that displeasure, intentions will matter. Sometimes, as in the case of the Vietnam War Memorial, the nature of the piece and the purpose of the piece was judged to be sufficiently strong to make it worth installing the Memorial despite initial dissatisfaction. In the case of Serra's Tilted Arc, it was the other way around.

You can make a case for this particular piece, but you've got to make the case, not just assume it.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:52 PM on February 6


Seriously, his "I think people might be seeing things in that work that just aren’t there" made me go WHAT? because - dude, you are an artist. A visual artist. You "see" things that aren't "there" all the time, and you comment on that via your art.

It cannot be news to him that the audience's perception has meaning regardless of the artist's intent.
posted by rtha at 12:53 PM on February 6 [8 favorites]


Juuuuuuust waiting for PR to backpedal to 'This entire debacle was intended as an artistic piece to encourage debate on gender roles and their power in society! Gold stars for EVERYONE!'
posted by mikurski at 1:00 PM on February 6


I'm still not buying this argument.

If this art is inappropriate and threatening at Wellsey, why would it be any less inappropriate or threatening on a co-ed campus?

Well, at a women's college, there are a number of reasons why a man might be on campus. He might work there. He might be taking a class there. He might be visiting a friend or doing research on something in the rare books collection or walking his dog around the lake. But everybody at Wellesley has also met guys who are there because heh-heh-heh chicks. There's the male exchange student who ended the year by sending a huge rant to the main message board about how he couldn't get a date all year because Wellesley girls are all shallow bitches. There's the guys who come to parties from off-campus and are super pissed off when they end up going back alone, because what the hell, Wellesley girls are supposed to be easy. There's that gross Rolling Stone article. There's the flasher. My point being that people are used to guys showing up and doing various creepy things not just because there are women there but because they're really into the idea that it's a women's college. I think this would have been a bad idea on any residential college campus, but it's particularly insensitive here.

I'm irritated from the perspective of someone who cares about Wellesley, but, honestly, I'm irritated almost as much from the perspective of someone who cares about art. Because it's totally counter to everything I associate with art, the way the people involved here are just so damned insistent on controlling the narrative around this statue into their predetermined channels. Putting clothes on the statue? Nonono, you need to experience it this way. Threatened? No, you're not really experiencing the bad kind of threatened, that's the good threatened! And the bit about people seeing things that aren't there because they're bringing their own experiences to the table -- isn't that something artists are supposed to be thrilled by, not something to be patiently and condescendingly corrected?
posted by ostro at 1:04 PM on February 6 [18 favorites]


Ok, how about Wellesley students are not agreement about this piece?

See, here's the thing - neutral reception doesn't act as a counterweight to negative reception. It is its own thing. If Wellesley has about 2400 students, and, say...fifty of them walk past that statue and say, "Gosh, my PTSD is playing up something fierce just now," then for our purposes, the other 2350 people are immaterial to the discussion. It becomes a question of whether or not you're okay setting off trauma triggers for fifty people.

I'm in the group of people who just cannot, in any way, see anything upsetting about the statue, but my experience is not everyone else's and it's not like I would be gaining a lot by its presence if I were a Wellesley student. And for disclosure's sake, I will point out that I am all for art that's confrontational and upsetting, even in public spaces; shaking people out of their routine with a good jump scare is, all other things being equal, hilarious to me. But all other things aren't equal, because there's a section of the population who won't respond by going, "Oh man! That thing scared me for a second!" and going about their business. They'll kind of lose their shit even if only on the inside and they'll generally feel unsafe in a place where that is not what they came to do, which is a shitty thing no one should have to deal with.

What I'm saying is, the people who are freaked out, they don't have to product documents that prove they have a valid reason to be freaked out or outvote the people who aren't freaked out. They get to just be freaked out. The work (apparently accidentally) hit some people's buttons and there's a discussion on campus about that and who knows what'll come of it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:35 PM on February 6 [20 favorites]


BOOP
posted by louche mustachio at 1:47 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


BOOP

This is why you can't have nice things!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:56 PM on February 6


But what I'm getting here overall is that intentions don't matter. The fact that something is unsettling to someone is what matters. Whether it's an unrealistic boob or a realistic sleepwalker, the difference between the two works isn't as far as it might seem.

Intentions don't matter. Design does. So you have on the one hand, The Spirit of Justice which is designed with iconic references to thousands of years of religious and philosophical iconography, down to the fact that it's not painted because the Renaissance guys were imitating works that had been scoured clean of ceremonial gilt and pigment. It's a work that was designed for the building and the space, along with 57 additional sculpted architectural elements created by the same artist as part of big commission to give the interior design of the space a modern iteration of the American federal fetish for neo-classical symbolism.

And on the other hand, you have an exhibition of works including two variations of Sleepwalker which use the hyperrealistic sculpture to say a number of things, including that we're lost and vulnerable creatures, like upturned flower vases or strangled chimps. So you take the male variation on Sleepwalker (both of which feature nudity, so if we're going to talk about prudishness let's talk about how the male version is usually the one put outside of the gallery), out of the context of vulnerability which defines the body of work, and put it outside in the middle of a campus where there's an ongoing discussion about sexual assault, safety, and institutional liability. And, surprise, surprise, if you take a sculpture out of a context of being lost and vulnerable into a context where sexual assault and institutional responsibility are big deals, some people are going going see the latter.

Which is a design problem on the part of the curator that doesn't exist for the glorious nipples of the Spirit of Justice. They exist proudly in the art deco building they were designed for, surrounded by 57 additional architectural elements designed in the same style, all in the service of the American civic religion of anthropomorphising our principles of government.

Masking a work in its designed artistic home is a very different thing from suggesting that a work would be better interpreted in the context of the show it travels with.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:01 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


"the Higher Authorities aren't allowing it."
Duh. Who would want to do anything that's permitted by the aforementioned Higher Authorities? What's the point of being young if you have to get approval before doing something wacky? I'm not saying destroy the thing, I'm saying make fun of it, without getting the administration to sanction the mockery.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:20 PM on February 6


are people just selectively skipping things in this thread? the students have been putting clothes on it and the like. the campus police keep taking it down. they're already trying to make fun of it or interact with it.
posted by nadawi at 2:44 PM on February 6 [8 favorites]


Yeah, they are already Defying The Man, Man, and The Man keeps removing the signs of that defiance.
posted by rtha at 2:44 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


I do love this idea that vandalizing an art installation is a laudable form of criticism, though. Because expression is a two-way street, man!
posted by kafziel at 4:24 PM on February 6


When I graduated from Wellesley years ago, I had too much student debt to live alone, so I moved into an apartment with a bunch of people and we all compromised on the decorations to put in common areas. Because it's the polite thing to do in a shared community (and some paintings are just super-ugly, yo).

Considering today's students are paying a shitload for tuition & board, it just rubs me the wrong way that the administration isn't showing the same kind of courtesy on the campus public spaces.
posted by wheek wheek wheek at 4:27 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


I think it needs a big black dildo strapped to its tightey whiteys.
posted by planetesimal at 4:28 PM on February 6


Considering today's students are paying a shitload for tuition & board, it just rubs me the wrong way that the administration isn't showing the same kind of courtesy on the campus public spaces.

I find it interesting there would be a need for twenty-somethings to compromise on decorations .

Also - if the students *weren't* paying as much for tuition and room-and-board, would they have less reason to complain?

Is the issue here about money and the privilege that it buys at Wellesley (and after graduation)?
posted by KokuRyu at 4:38 PM on February 6


"I find it interesting there would be a need for twenty-somethings to compromise on decorations ."

Sometimes you say things that make me wonder if you're not an alien anthropologist studying Earthlings, disguised as one of us. I'm onto you, dude.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:41 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


The high point of decorations when I shared a house at that age as putting our pooled Kinder Toy surprise collection on the toilet tank.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:46 PM on February 6


"are people just selectively skipping things in this thread? the students have been putting clothes on it and the like. the campus police keep taking it down. "

Also the statue isn't nude rather it is wearing jockey shorts.
posted by Mitheral at 5:10 PM on February 6


KokuRyu, you pooled your Kinder Toy collections? That shows an amazing amount of confidence in your roommates. I hope no blood was spilled later.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:22 PM on February 6


this is an easily solvable problem - you put one of these in front of it, so it looks like he's reaching for the hamburger

(seriously, though, i have pretty mixed feelings about this - this is a bit creepy - but i'm not sure i like the idea that art is supposed to be safe or make people feel safe - i'm not even sure i like the idea of making the world around you seem safe, as that seems to be what we've been trying to do in suburbia and big box shopping districts - and it's an illusion that is often detrimental to the people holding it, especially if something awful happens

(but the installation is creepy in a rather trollish way, especially now that the museum and the artist have heard the complaints and dismissed them - they've made their point, whatever it was, and really ought to put him back inside before some inspired lunatic takes an old junk F150 with no plates and hits the thing so it's embedded in the grill and leaves it there

(as an artistic statement, of course)
posted by pyramid termite at 6:07 PM on February 6


an image search on artist Tony Matelli's name shows that he had done a female version of the same pose and state of undress. First, a male with hair, 1998, female version 2009, and then mr baldy 2013/2014.

With respect to his choice of attire for the man, Matelli said it just made sense.
“It just seemed like a natural thing for him to get out of bed in. So, narratively it works,” he said. “The tighty-whites are — in and of themselves — kind of iconic.”


This artist makes his female sleepwalkers topless. They are no less creepy looking, they are not dressed as if just risen from sleep, and I would judge them to be at least as unsettleing on campus as the male version. What they lack in intimidation/triggering factors they make up for in crudeness.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:32 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Is the issue here about money and the privilege that it buys at Wellesley (and after graduation)?

Uh. No. Why would you even go there? Do we have to make it about how they're spoiled brats who think they can "buy" their way out of a lifetime of sexual unease and harassment? Because don't worry, they can't, few women can.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:36 PM on February 6 [10 favorites]


OK, I don't want to just be angry and glib about this, but if you've had someone flash or your expose themselves to you in a public place (especially one where you couldn't leave or where you lived/near where you lived), this is a pretty gross thing to have to look at on a daily basis. My heart rate went up actually when I saw the photograph, and I had no idea really what it would look like before I clicked. I would have lots of fantasies about smashing this piece basically everytime I saw it. (I wouldn't do it because I'm a good girl.)

I don't really understand why they didn't use the female statue instead, seeing as it's a women's campus-- women are supposed to see art/the world through men's eyes all the time, it seems like it would be a great idea to put some art BY A WOMAN on the campus, or failing that, art by a man that is focalized through a woman. Especially if you're going to get into creepy-naked territory. From what I can tell from the female statue, it's not overtly sexualized (I do sleep like that, her hair is a mess, plain underwear, &c.). Is it the tits that make it too inappropriate for public? Then we're back at Ashcroft. The fact that women's bodies are just used as this automatic disposable commodity for everything and anything including art maybe makes it a bit predictable, but clearly the alternative is this stupid naked man statue. You know, maybe just like, don't make this creepy shit into public art?
posted by stoneandstar at 6:51 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


But what I'm getting here overall is that intentions don't matter. The fact that something is unsettling to someone is what matters. Whether it's an unrealistic boob or a realistic sleepwalker, the difference between the two works isn't as far as it might seem.

In former case, it was sexual prudery. In the latter case, it's a startle response to the silhouette and then a follow-up fear response of "is this man physically unwell, mentally ill, and possibly going to attack me?"
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:14 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


nicodine: "desuetude, I don't think it would be that easy. This is their home, and it's intrusive to put something there and tell them, "yo I am gonna do this thing for art! Be prepared to be chill.""

But their home is a college campus, and such the administration makes decisions to construct buildings on it, landscape it, install art on it, and control nearly every other aspect of its use and appearance...
posted by desuetude at 7:30 PM on February 6


> Our culture really does have a tendency to idealize women's bodies to the extent that "a nude woman" is a symbol interchangeable for "beauty," and to regard men's bodies as either irrelevant or inherently ugly.

This only holds true for women's bodies within a very narrow range of size, shape, and age. Female bodies that are old or fat or scarred are typically considered either irrelevant or inherently ugly as well. I don't agree with this, a lot of people don't agree with this, but it is the predominant attitude, to the point of being a cliche.
posted by desuetude at 7:31 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


theora55: "Glue on a chador, give him a sombrero, at least a sorority t-shirt."

Minor point, but Wellesley has no sororities.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:40 PM on February 6


they are not dressed as if just risen from sleep

A lot of people sleep in just their underwear or naked; the statues are supposed to be somnambulists. The artist may be a bit of a jerk in his response to the students' reactions but there's nothing inherently creepy about sculpture having unclothed body parts.

What they lack in intimidation/triggering factors they make up for in crudeness

If you think that non-sexualized breasts are crude, you're not going to like most art museums.
posted by Candleman at 9:43 PM on February 6


And if I saw that nude "sleepwalking" woman statue out in the snow, I'd assume she was mentally ill, about to freeze to death and/or had just been sexually assaulted and was in need of help. Also terrifying.
posted by amanda at 9:49 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


We're designed to recognize other people, to the point that we recognize people shapes in non-human objects. So no, I don't think knowing the piece is there would reduce the level of disturbance for me in the same way that I'd stop noticing a new piece of art that wasn't human-shaped.

This is totally true - I work at a visual effects company, and there are usually a few lifelike human(ish) props kicking around the office. There's one of a hairy werewolfy guy that I walk past all the time. I can forget about it most of the time, but if it gets moved a few inches, or if someone takes off the hats and stuff people tend to dress it in, it can take me by surprise all over again. And that's me, I'm a pretty unflappable person working in an environment where horror films are made; it's actually my job to freak and gross people out! I can completely understand why this statue bothers the students.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:56 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Banksy, paraphrasing Finley Peter Dunne, said "Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable." I agree with this, and I think that in this context, anyone who suffers from fear of assault or violation has already been disturbed enough.

The artist, the curator and the school administration are all comfortable. I don't want to destroy the statue; I want to take it and place it in their bedrooms in the dead of night, right over their beds, so they see it when they wake up at 2am to use the bathroom. Surely they'd appreciate the contextuality of the artistic experience.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:41 AM on February 7 [11 favorites]


No scarf, but a dancing snowman instead.
posted by Melismata at 8:33 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


That's great! I'd love it if the students did stuff *around* the statue that didn't actuall do anything to the statue itself, and that those commentaries would be left alone by the administration.
posted by rtha at 10:36 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


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