On the Wall: Art Banners 8 Feet Tall

By Annie Groer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Four years ago, an eight-foot-tall banner depicting Swedish ball bearings on a crimson field fluttered from a Manhattan light pole, touting the reopening of New York's Museum of Modern Art. Today, it hangs in Peter Knockstead's dining room in Northwest Washington.

"It just spoke to me from a modern sense," says Knockstead, events manager for the American Diabetes Association. "And how cool is it that you know the provenance of it? I was told it was hung on Fifth Avenue."

Dawn Laguens was smitten by a banner showing a detail of Georgia O'Keeffe's "Red Hills With Flowers" at the Art Institute of Chicago. She bought one last Christmas for her partner, Jennifer Treat, and now the ceiling-height work radiates red, yellow and magenta in their D.C. living room.

"They are oversize, they are very affordable and they seem like reuse, which I love," says Laguens, a Democratic fundraising consultant.

Both banners came from BetterWall, a four-year-old Denver company that scouts, buys and sells these outdoor exhibition promos from 25 U.S. museums and galleries. They are impact pieces. Measuring from six to eight feet tall and 30 to 36 inches wide, they are as large and bold as most rooms can take.

All of them once hung from light poles or building fronts, and most are printed on both sides to catch the eye of drivers and pedestrians. Their sturdy vinyl material, fade-proof inks and wind slits mean they can survive outdoors for years. Prices start at $300, with the rarest examples costing $1,495. All include free shipping, hardware and hanging instructions.

The company ( http://www.betterwall.com) was born of the enthusiasm of art historian Nora Weiser, 38, who ran a Denver museum shop alliance, and her husband, Nicolas, 39, who worked for an environmental consulting firm. Both were searching for a home business to meld their professional expertise and give them more time with their two children.

Nora Weiser acquired their first banner after the 1997 exhibition of Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh she co-curated at the art institute. When the couple left Chicago for Denver, it moved with them.

"Everyone who walked into our house would say, 'Wow, where did you get it? Can I get one of those?' " Weiser say. "They were fascinated by the idea that it was a street banner." One night when they were kicking around business possibilities, she says, her husband hit on an idea: "Let's sell those banners."

They pitched a "recycle and reuse" concept to dozens of museums, knowing that once an exhibit ended, "they would throw the banners out. They are dirty, they are big and kind of an unwieldy product to have." Cleaned up, however, they are affordable art with a back story.

"Most people pick the banner that appeals to them on an aesthetic level. They just really like the image, or maybe they were in a city and saw the exhibit there," Weiser says. "Designers buy things for clients. They are not so interested in the artist but the look, maybe black and white."

Current stock includes promos for Amish quilts from the Denver Art Museum, a black-and-white Chuck Close self-portrait from a show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and an image of a Japanese geisha that once flapped outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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