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Controversial Sculpture of Underwear-Clad 'Sleepwalker' Coming to High Line

By Maya Rajamani | January 6, 2016 4:06pm
 Tony Matelli's
Tony Matelli's "Sleepwalker" sculpture will be on display at the High Line starting in April.
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Friends of the High Line

CHELSEA — An underwear-clad man whose presence on a college campus two years ago sparked a petition for his removal will find a home on the High Line this spring.

“Sleepwalker" — a life-like sculpture of a man wearing only underwear and stretching his arms out as he seemingly walks in his sleep — will be on display as part of the Friends of the High Line’s “Wanderlust” exhibit opening in April, a communications manager said.

The pieces showcased in “Wanderlust” explore themes of “walking, journeys, and pilgrimages, inspired by the High Line as a space that people experience most naturally in motion,” the Friends said in a statement.

However, a Change.org petition circulated by Wellesley College students in February 2014 had a different take on the sculpture created by artist Tony Matelli, calling it an “inappropriate and potentially harmful addition to [the] community.”

“Within just a few hours of its outdoor installation, the highly lifelike sculpture… has become a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for some members of our campus community,” reads the petition, sent to the college's president and the director of the school's Davis Museum, which displayed the work on campus.

“While it may appear humorous, or thought provoking to some, the ‘Sleepwalker’ has already become a source of undue stress for a number of Wellesley College students, the majority of whom live, study and work on campus,” it continued.

The petition, which called for the sculpture to be moved into the Davis Museum and out of the public view, garnered 1,014 signatures.

But museum director Lisa Fischman told the New York Times at the time that the sculpture would remain in place until July 2014.

“I was completely taken aback by this response,” she told the paper, adding she wanted the sculpture to provoke dialogue about “creative freedom and what it means to honor that on campus.”

Works from the “Wanderlust” exhibit, which also features pieces from other artists as well, will be on display from April 2016 to March 2017.