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Behind The Banner

December 1, 2009

bb_282.jpgLike many cities in the US, San Francisco's streets are lined with colorful banners advertising various cultural organizations and events. I wouldn't be surprised if many people in this city owe their knowledge of the existence of The New Century Chamber Orchestra and the Disney Family Museum to the flying banners bearing the names of these organizations strapped to the tops of lampposts around town.

Just like billboard posters, you never see people putting these banners up or taking them down. They appear and disappear as if by magic, it seems, as if an army of elves shuttles in in the night to do the work. Where do the banners come from and where do they go?

It turns out that there are dedicated banner companies like BetterWall which oversee the elves.

The company is currently touting three new banners with San Francisco connections:

1) Victor Moscoso "Psychedelic Experience": This banner features a poster from 1966 promoting a concert at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco featuring Oxford Circle, Big Brother & the Holding Company, and Lee Michaels. The poster was created by graphic artist Victor Moscoso, renowned as one of "The Five" big artists of the Family Dog collective.

2) Marc Chagall's "Music": Featured on banners from the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Chagall's image of "Music" was created as a mural for Moscow's Jewish Chamber Theater in 1920 as part of a series which also included "Dance", "Drama", and "Literature". His interpretation of "Music" features dreamlike imagery of a fiddler on the shtetl rooftops - it is, in fact, the image from which the 1964 musical "Fiddler on the Roof" took its name.

3) De Young Museum "Fern Courtyard" (pictured): The contemporary architecture of Herzog & de Meuron's de Young museum is the backdrop for the museum's 200-foot long Fern Courtyard. A verdant green space, the courtyard sits at the heart of the de Young museum.

BetterWall works with arts institutions to sell the banners that have been hung on city street-posts to promote their exhibitions and allegedly shares proceeds with the museums. The company says that it keeps over 10 tons of vinyl out of landfills each year as a result.

Prices for used banners range from $300 - $800. Quite a nice, non-bank-breaking collectors item, I think. I, for one, wouldn't mind the Fern Courtyard for my apartment.


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