[Image: Cosley Football Player, Ren Netherland/Animal Photography, 2009]
With legions that stretch from Pittsburgh across America and the globe, one could make the case that Steeler partisans have raised the concept of 'fandom' to that of an art form.
But Steelers fans as 'art'?
That notion might elicit an emphtaic "Double Yoi!" from a dearly departed Steelers broadcaster, but it's exactly the thinking behind an exhibit in development at the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University called "Whatever It Takes: Steelers Fan Collections, Rituals, and Obsessions" that's slated to run through the 2010 NFL season.
Gallery director Astria Suparak and assistant art professor Jon Rubin intend to explore the subject of Steeler mania, a phenomenon that seems to transcend every established social boundary -- income, race, religion, for instance -- in Western Pennsylvania, and the creativity it inspires.
"We've tried to envision it as if an alien landed in Pittsburgh, and tried to figure out what government faction or religious cult ruled the city, they would probably think it was the Steelers," Rubin said.
A Philadelphia-native, Rubin came to Carnegie Mellon as the Steelers made their title-bearing run to Super Bowl XL, and was captivated by the outpouring of devotion and creativity inspired by the Steelers, in the form of video, songs, photography, t-shirts, street art, paintings, clothing, crafts and even tattoos or the poodle seen above -- all organically produced by fans. He admitted he'd "never seen anything quite like it" -- from his hometown Eagles fans, or anywhere else in the country.
According to his professional bio, Rubin is "a multi-disciplinary artist whose work explores the social dynamics of public places and the idiosyncrasies of individual and group behavior." Steelers fans are perfect fodder given that set of criteria and Pittsburgh's historical ties to Andy Warhol and the concept "Pop Art" dovetail nicely into the overall theme.
"The term 'art' can be a slippery slope because people get into value judgements about what [art] is and isn't," he said. "This has to do more with reflecting something in the culture."
Rubin has made local and national headlines with a pair of highly visible conceptual art projects in the Pittsburgh: the Waffle Shop and Conflict Kitchen both on Highland Ave. in East Liberty. The Waffle Shop is a working diner/reality show, in which patrons are encouraged to be interviewed and filmed by staff members; Conflict Kitchen is a take out food window that specializes in a making dishes from countries that the United States is in direct conflict with, and providing factual information about the source of the conflict. The current offering is a Kubideh - somewhat akin to an Iranian gyro. (If you're local, stop and try one. They are delicious).
A Los Angeles-native, Superak came to Pittsburgh from Syracuse University in 2008 (during another Super Bowl season) and has presented 300+ shows at galleries in 10 countries. She said this exhibition proves to be unique.
"It's not something that's been looked at. I've never heard of a show like this in any other city," she said. "There have been art exhibits about sports, but none about fans, and the wide range of creativity from them that can be easily viewed as 'art'."
So, here's the thing: they need your help. They want things created by you. They do not want NFL licensed stuff. They've created a Facebook page for the exhibit with the following call for submissions:
"Do you (or someone you know) have any Pittsburgh Steelers-related art or homemade creations like: tattoos, customized cars, lawn ornaments, crafts, handmade signs, elaborate tailgaiting rituals, etc.? Post links, works, videos, photos, whatever here!"
The show is slated to begin in August.
Some examples of the kind of things they might be looking for: