Not quite real, but not junk either

The Baltimore Sun

They're knock-offs. But knock-offs of priceless works of art, and the fickle world of fine art can't seem to decide where they belong.

Main hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Or leaky warehouse in Queens?

Hundreds of plaster replicas of Greek statues and Renaissance sculptures - made in the 1800s so American art students could see the great works without schlepping to Europe - have lived in climate-controlled glory and U-Haul hell as they've fallen in and out of fashion.

Six of the pieces moved yet again, this time to a Baltimore art studio, where they're getting the type of TLC lavished on the Sistine Chapel.

Credit the art world's current, almost Seinfeldian consensus: They're fake, and they're spectacular.

"It's kind of awesome to think, wow, someone copied this from the Parthenon hundreds of years ago," said David Kidd of Baltimore, lead conservator on a project to clean and restore the pieces for the New York-based Institute for Classical Architecture and Classical America.

That's impressive because you can't just slather wax or clay or plaster on the Parthenon anymore to make molds like the ones used to create the copies. The process stressed the originals, Kidd said.

The plaster copies are important for another reason: Some of them are in better shape than the originals, which have been damaged or destroyed by weather, acid rain and World War II bombings.

That isn't to say all of the replicas are in great shape. A 15th-century casting from the Cathedral of Siena, a Madonna and Child from the School of Donatello, mostly needs cleaning - a simple, if tedious job involving cotton swabs and distilled water. But a frieze from the Parthenon looks like a jigsaw puzzle, broken into at least 25 pieces.

"You just know in 1940 there were burly truck drivers just throwing them into a warehouse without any consideration for them," Kidd said.

Even before repairs are made, the six pieces together are valued at $90,000. At least for now.

The restoration work is taking place at Zoll Studio of Fine Art in Lutherville, which will have an open house Sept. 28 to show off the pieces while they're still in style.

New kid in a questionable neighborhood

Ben Cardin, who had first choice among this year's Senate freshmen for Capitol Hill office space, finds himself in a colorful neighborhood.

He shares the fifth floor of the Hart Senate Office Building with Ted Stevens (Republican of Alaska), under investigation for pay-for-play-type corruption; David Vitter (Republican of Louisiana), who admitted to "sinning" after his phone number came up in the D.C. Madam's records; and Larry Craig (Republican of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport), who may or may not be resigning after that bathroom arrest.

The floor plan: Cardin: room 509; Vitter: 516; Craig: 520; Stevens: 522.

The only other guy on that end of the hall is Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, who mostly makes the news for being Senate Finance Committee chairman.

They're talking with Uncle Walter

Columbia-based Retirement Living TV is trying to put Walter Cronkite, "the most trusted man in America," back on the air. But the one-year-old television network has been going about it in a way that's a little, well, untrustworthy.

"RLTV Signs on Walter Cronkite," read the headline on the station's Web site. The subheadline - "And that's the Way It Is - Again?" - ends in question mark for good reason: By all accounts, Cronkite has not signed on to do anything with RLTV.

RLTV is "in talks" with Cronkite, something I know because the network took the unusual step announcing that not-done deal in a press release the other day.

"RLTV President Brad Knight says one option would be to have Cronkite give weekly commentary 'about anything Walter wants to share with us,'" the release said.

Marlene Adler, Cronkite's chief of staff, said the Web headline was "erroneous," though she confirmed that the veteran newsman has discussed doing some work for RLTV. Was she surprised that RLTV had decided to trumpet those talks in a news release?

"Quite," she said. "It is premature. We really are just in conversation."

If only more people issued press releases about behind-the-scenes negotiations. Cronkite and the rest of us in the news biz would have it easy, right?

"You're not kidding," Adler said.

RLTV spokesman Mel Tansill blamed the Web headline on an "enthusiastic staffer." He had the whole story removed from the site after I pointed out the misleading headline.

"The website will not make mention of anything with respect to Mr. Cronkite until a contract is signed," he e-mailed me.

But Tansill couldn't resist adding: "Here is the updated (as of this afternoon) word re: Walter Cronkite and Retirement Living TV. We are in 'advanced talks' with Mr. Cronkite."

Connect the dots

Goucher College President Sanford Ungar appeared in last week's New York Times Magazine with a personal essay about living in the shadow of his older brother, Calvin, who died in World War II about a year before Ungar was born.

Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich sounds like he's in full campaign mode in a new fundraising letter, which asks supporters to "help me stay in touch with voters." Price? A low, low $120 to the Bob Ehrlich for Maryland Committee.

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