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Advice for Nelson


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To the editors:

As a writer, I'd howl from the rooftops in defense of a political satirist's right to skewer anyone he chooses. But I can't work up much steam for artist David K. Nelson. No, not because I'm an African-American woman who happens to live around the corner from Alderman Dorothy Tillman. It's just that the insect on page 12 of my December 20 Reader would be unrecognizable if Ms. Tillman's name weren't beside it.

OK. Tolstoy never settled his old What Is Art? argument, so I won't even attempt it. Instead, let me state the biggest problem I see with Mr. Nelson's most notorious works: TIMING.

The Harold-Washington-in-lingerie portrait was presented while shock waves from the mayor's sudden death still rippled through the black community. During the '88 flap over the piece, I recall thinking that if Washington were around, he'd dismiss " . . . so much flotsam and jetsam" to give the painting the indifferent shrug it deserved.

Advice to Mr. Nelson #1: Wait till the body cools. If you gracefully allow a respectable period of mourning, I swear a dead subject will still be deceased when you finally drive the satirical stake through his heart.

As for lampooning Dorothy Tillman; even though Mr. Nelson denies this, it must be suspected that he's still pissed with her for being one of the alderfolk who removed his earlier work from the Art Institute student gallery. But rage and the way it manifests itself are creatures of entirely different species.

Advice to Mr. Nelson #2: It looks lousy to artistically bash a person you're in the process of suing. It makes you appear vaguely sadistic like a boxer who wants to rough up opponents (just for fun, har-har) before the real face-off in the ring.

Of course, things like humanity and simple reason fall by the wayside when an artist is trying to make a name--even a loud, obnoxious name --for himself. Right, Dave?

T. Diane Slatton

E. 44th St.

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