Maybe it's tacky, but kind of glorious


M ichael Phelps, you've won another medal.

Created by acclaimed Austrian artist Franz West, it's in a vault at the Baltimore Museum of Art. That's the good news.

The bad: It's a turquoise Plasticine disc the size of a salad plate, with lumpy, pink, vaguely hemorrhoidal blobs on both sides.

Which isn't to say the piece doesn't rank up there with other works by West, whose first American retrospective is on display at the BMA. West is all about blobs and body parts and bubble-gum pink, and for some reason, people who know a whole lot about art seem to like that.

"It's really kind of tacky but in a glorious way," BMA curator Darsi Alexander said of the medal.

The piece was an afterthought to the BMA show, the result of some bad luck that befell West before it opened.

West was supposed to come to town for the exhibit but found himself instead in a hospital bed in Naples, Italy, recovering from bacterial meningitis. To pass the time, he watched the Olympics. But that hardly took his mind off Baltimore.

Baltimore! Baltimore! Baltimore! That was all he heard, what with Phelps making such a splash.

"He was obviously feeling sad about not being here," Alexander said. "At a certain point, he just made this connection. He decided he was going to make a medal, much more humongous and sort of colorful than an Olympic medal ... this thoroughly quirky medal that bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to an Olympic medal."

It's not entirely clear if West wants the museum to keep the piece or to present it to Phelps, Alexander said. But museum spokeswoman Anne Mannix said she plans to invite the Olympian to have a look at the piece, if not take it home with him.

Sounds like reason enough to take a break from the old eat-sleep-swim grind, or dating beauty pageant finalists, or whatever it is Phelps is up to lately. But I'll bet he'd think twice about displaying it at his Fells Point townhouse, even if the walls are bachelor-pad bare.

On two teams at once

On Barack Obama's transition team: Tom Perez, secretary of Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

He is coordinating the review of 13 agencies, boards and commissions, including the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services and Housing.

So does this mean Perez will be leaving one O'Ministration for another?

I couldn't reach him, but he gave one of those non-denial denials to The Gazette, which first reported his transition role.

"I'm really happy with what I'm doing," he told the newspaper.

For now at least, Perez remains on the job as Maryland labor secretary. He is squeezing in transition stuff in his off hours and taking leave time when transition duty calls during the work day, said Dori Berman, spokeswoman for the DLLR.

Berman assured me he's not slacking off.

"All of his staff get e-mails from him at 1:30 in the morning," she said.

Now he's an early riser

Ed Norris moved to the morning drive-time slot on WHFS last week after the station overhauled its lineup. The ex-police chief, most recently on afternoons, is on the air now from 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

"I'm excited about it," he said. "It's a real honor. This is the big slot."

How's the early start agreeing with him?

"I've worked similar hours as a cop, but not in a long time."

OK, collect the $20

Maryland political gossips have it that instead of trying to reclaim the governorship, Bob Ehrlich is mulling a run for state comptroller. That would be a step down for Ehrlich, but those Board of Public Works meetings sure would get interesting.

Any truth to it?

"My hunch is somewhere one politico bet another politico 20 bucks they couldn't get that rumor in the papers," Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said. "Seriously, it's the first I heard of it. His thinking is unchanged. Time and the political landscape will determine whether he returns to public office down the road."

So if Ehrlich isn't looking ahead yet, what is he doing? Looking back!

"The Ehrlich-Steele Administration Alumni Association is being formed to bring together friends and former colleagues of the Ehrlich-Steele Administration," read an e-mail announcing the gathering. It's at Hightopps Backstage Grille in Timonium Nov. 25, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The event is not another fundraiser, just a get-together to talk about the good old days. The e-mail claims Ehrlich will attend.

Philanthropy in PJs

Just what you need as the hectic holiday season approaches: An invitation to one more charity gala. But the invite from the Cool Kids Campaign, a kids-with-cancer charity co-founded by Olympian Kimmie Meissner, will appeal to even the most dedicated homebody.

Its second annual Holiday Not Happening Ball is a fundraiser that lets you stay home. The invitations, to be mailed shortly before Thanksgiving, basically say, Just write us a check and you don't have to get dolled up and eat cold mini-quiches.

"Last year's fundraiser was an overwhelming success as hundreds of pajama-clad partygoers flocked to their living rooms to celebrate 'a night in' while benefiting the Cool Kids Campaign!" it reads. "They saved money on party outfits, babysitters, gas and Advil, while we saved on catering, decorations and entertainment! Instead, 100 percent of your donations went directly to our programs for the children and their families living with cancer.

"Please revel in the simple pleasure of having one less party to attend this holiday season."

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