Steeler Nation Map
Astria Suparak with Jon Rubin, designed by Margaret Cox
This is a new map of the world representing Steeler Nation, where countries that don’t have a fan base for the Pittsburgh NFL team don’t exist. There are 2,000 self-proclaimed Steelers bars and fan clubs worldwide, existing in every American state and over 25 different countries, including Blozik’s Blitzburgh Cave in Serbia and Botticella Birreria in Rome. Flanking the map painted across a 442-foot wall in the exhibition Whatever It Takes at Carnegie Mellon’s Miller Gallery, was a list of all the bars’ names and locations. Local Steelers fans would visit the gallery and check the listings before heading out on vacation or a business trip, ensuring that they could catch the game while away from home.
The Steeler Nation Map was created for the Whatever It Takes: Steelers Fan Collections, Rituals, and Obsessions exhibition.
Steeler Nation Map painted across a 442-foot wall at Carnegie Mellon’s Miller Gallery, flanked by a list of the thousands of Steelers bars names and locations.
ABC-AFFILIATE WTAE ACTION NEWS: Steeler Nation On Display At CMU Exhibit,” Sept. 9, 2010
NEW YORK TIMES – #1 Most-Read New York Times Sports article for two days
An art gallery sent crews into the cramped basement of a die-hard Steelers fan to box up his vast and eccentric collection of black-and-gold paraphernalia.
Days later, on the second floor of the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, the fan’s man cave had been reassembled, down to the last hand-painted action figure, bobblehead and toilet seat.
Art Basel it is not. The man cave and nearly 1,500 unlicensed videos, T-shirts, sculptures and other objects make up “Whatever It Takes,” an exhibit that explores the culture of Steelers Nation and the personal relationship between the team and its fans. It is scheduled to run through Jan. 30 — or longer, gallery officials said, if the Steelers reach the Super Bowl.
“Steelers culture is Pittsburgh’s popular culture,” said Jon Rubin, a Carnegie Mellon fine arts professor who curated the exhibit with Astria Suparak, the gallery director. “The identity of the city is tied into the identity of the team.”
This is, after all, a town where football and cultural life are so intertwined that a life-size statue of running back Franco Harris’s Immaculate Reception greets airport visitors; members of the Pittsburgh Symphony think nothing of waving bright yellow Terrible Towels onstage; and Wiz Khalifa, a local rap star, recently made an ode to “Black and Yellow” his first single to break onto the national scene. One of the hottest tickets at the public theater is “The Chief,” a play celebrating the life of the team’s founder, Art Rooney Sr.
Indeed, the Steelers’ heritage runs deep…
Rubin and Suparak spent several months scouring the Internet for collectibles for the exhibit. They tracked down a Kentucky man who owned 102 footballs autographed by Steelers and a dog groomer from a Pittsburgh suburb who turned her tiny poodle into “Big Ben” Roethlisberger, after the team’s suspended quarterback. (Her next project? Styling a Troy Poodle-Malu yarn dog with a long, lush mane like safety Troy Polamalu’s.)
On Facebook, the curators found the Black and Golden Calf, a homemade mascot that is said to be the divine offspring of the Heinz Heifer and Steel Steer. They even canvassed 60 tattoo parlors in the region, where they found Steeler Ron, whose body is inked from head to toe with images of local landmarks and his favorite players.
“We wanted anything that was not N.F.L.-branded or Steelers-created,” Rubin said. “It had to be fan-generated.”
Earlier this month, in one of the Miller Gallery’s largest openings, some 500 visitors wandered through the two-floor exhibit — a group more familiar with the work of Trai Essex (an obscure lineman) than Tracey Emin (a contemporary artist). Many came wearing jerseys as if they were headed to Heinz Field. And instead of wine and cheese, they nibbled on pretzels and nursed Iron City beer.
The show’s centerpiece is Denny DeLuca’s 252-square-foot man cave. On the bookshelves are 80 homemade Steelers action figures including an underwear-clad Roethlisberger tossing a beer and Santonio Holmes making his Super Bowl-winning tiptoe catch. Three Rivers Stadium, one of the Steelers’ former homes, is represented by a steel beam and turf from the south end of the field, and the toilet seat from DeLuca’s favorite stall.
“It went under my coat at the final game,” he said.
Many other objects were just as strange. By the entrance, a projector showed a montage of 70 YouTube clips and other videos highlighting fan rituals. One featured a parrot squawking, “Here we go, Steelers!” Others showed a woman applying gold eye-shadow on game day and a recitation of a Steelers version of the Lord’s Prayer.
Sitting nearby is a Jacuzzi-size model of Heinz Field built by a group of electric football league fans. It shows Rooney making the rounds in the press box and President Obama, who grew up a Steelers fan, waving a flag in the stands.
Rob Dalmasse, who spent two weeks constructing the model with his in-laws a few years ago, said he was proud to have it on display in a gallery setting and hoped to find it a permanent home in a Pittsburgh museum.
“The truth is, my mother-in-law has stored it in her spare bedroom,” he said. “She’d be happy it was gone.”
On the exhibit’s second level, a black-and-gold wall map outlines the reach of Steelers Nation: the 50 states and 27 countries. All told, the curators identified more than 1,800 bars where Steelers fans congregate, including Blozik’s Blitzburgh Cave in Serbia and Botticella Birreria in Rome.
“Sometimes, they will avoid going to the Colosseum and St. Peter’s and come right here,” said Giovanni Poggi, Botticella’s bartender, who can field questions from gallery visitors via Web cam. “Italians are not as passionate.”
Steelers fanaticism, the curators said, is perhaps rivaled only by the reverence of “Star Trek” followers.
“The one difference is that Steeler fans are more socially accepted,” Rubin said. “Parents of Pittsburgh Public School students are not getting called up with messages saying: ‘It’s Trekkie day. Live long and prosper.’ ”
Before Pittsburgh’s season opener, however, Rubin received an automated phone reminder about Steeler Day at his daughter’s elementary school. All students, it said, were encouraged to wear black and gold.
– Eric Dash, “The Steelers at the Intersection of Iron City Beer and Art Basel,” Sept. 18, 2010
PITTSBURGH CITY PAPER – Cover Story
The first thing you notice, as you walk into Carnegie Mellon University’s Miller Gallery, is that this exhibit is big. On the first floor, there’s a huge screen playing Steelers fan videos — four videos at a time, in split-screen. […]
Upstairs, you find a voluminous loft, every wall of which is covered with maps, pictures and artifacts. The floor-space is taken up with swaths of fake-grass and mini-bleachers. In the middle of the gallery, an entire shack has been built out of cheap lumber, and every inch is packed with Steelers memorabilia.
And yet, Whatever It Takes was assembled by only two people, CMU art professor Jon Rubin and gallery director Astria Suparak. They worked with a pair of assistants, but for the most part Rubin and Suparak conceived of and put together the installation themselves. They painted an entire wall with a mural of “Steeler Country,” a world map that shows only countries with an ample number of Steelers bars. Such friendly nations — like China, Brazil and most of Europe — are painted in gold. Everywhere else, including oceans, is painted black.
Here, their goal is to attract not only students and culturati, but workaday Steelers fans as well. The curators expect their exhibit to evolve over time; the amount of paraphernalia will grow, fan-footage will be added. The installation is organic, reflecting the enthusiasm of the people who visit.
– Robert Isenberg, “Art of the Steel: A New CMU Exhibit Celebrates Steelers Fandom,” Sept. 9, 2010
ASSOCIATED PRESS – This article ran in over 200 news outlets internationally.
A Pittsburgh hospital swaddles its newborns in “Terrible Towels.” A Wisconsin man dresses up like a bishop and calls himself “St. Vince,” as in Lombardi.
Fans of the Super Bowl-bound Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers live and die with their teams, taking their passion for football from cradle to grave as two of the most rabid, far-reaching bases in pro sports.
Forget Dallas and its self-proclaimed “America’s Team” label. That franchise is a baby compared to the Packers (established 1919) and the Steelers (1933), whose fans in two of the NFL’s smallest markets would beg to differ.
Steelers fans are in another realm, argues the co-curator of a Pittsburgh exhibit called “Whatever It Takes: Steelers Fan Collections, Rituals and Obsessions.”
“It’s a unifying force that crosses all demographic boundaries,” said Astria Suparak, director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Miller Gallery. “It crosses class, races; your bus drivers, your doctors, your anarchists, your artists are all Steelers fans and that’s very unusual. There are some very clear lines in other cities for sports fans that don’t get crossed – but not in Pittsburgh…
While there is no sure-fire census of Pittsburgh fans, Suparak and co-curator Jon Rubin catalogued nearly 2,000 fan clubs or Steelers bars in all 50 states, every Canadian province, and in 27 countries.
They include Blozik’s Blitzburgh Cave, a bar in Bosnia, and La Botticella, another bar, in Rome, which is linked to the CMU exhibit by Skype so gallery patrons can interact with its customers over a live feed.
– Colin Fly and Joe Mandak, “Packers, Steelers fans among NFL’s most rabid: From cradle to grave, fans of Packers, Steelers live and die supporting their beloved teams,” Feb. 2, 2011
Whatever It Takes is an amazing curatorial effort by Jon Rubin, an associate professor of fine art at CMU, and Astria Suparak, the Miller Gallery’s director.
Although larger, socio-economic types of questions arise here, basically this show, with its dash of OCD and affluenza, is a salute to the devotion and creative energy of the fans constituting Steelers Nation – which is not just Pittsburgh, not just Western Pennsylvania but a global village comprising a highly diverse population with a tribal mentality. (Just take a look at the map in the gallery showing the Steelers bars and fan clubs around the planet.)”
– Mike May, “Exhibits: Zap the cold with the Black and Gold,” Jan. 2011
On the back wall, a panoramic black-and-gold Robinson projection illustrates the plenitude of allegedly Steelers-themed bars around the world. […]
Suparak and Rubin curate gingerly – with preservationist care – framing without straining to deconstruct the insular and heartfelt peculiarities of Steelers culture. The gallery mediates a sort of creative sublimation of fandom, with its inimitable rawness and verve.
Significantly, most of the exhibition’s coverage has been published outside the arts sections… Whatever It Takes is no more a valentine to fans than it is a forum for necessarily good art to be viewed.
The effectiveness of the show, after all, hinges on the modification of conventional judgements, event by contemporary standards, and the re-assertion of things like passion, relevance, and solidarity. In the City of Champions, different rules apply.
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE – Magazine cover story.
“In creating this amusing, endearing portrait of Pittsburgh sports fans, the curators aimed to examine how fans become producers of culture by constructing their personal and social identities in relation to the team. The result is that the gallery feels like a fun house where Steelers Nation is reflected through a thousand mirrors. […]
On one large wall, a map with dots locates Steelers bars around the world, including Blozik’s Blitzburgh Cafe in Belgrade, Serbia. No doubt it’s a place frequented by employees of steel mills operated there by U.S. Steel.
There’s also an exhaustive list of 1,800 Steelers bars and fan clubs from Aruba to the U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s fun to look down the list and see the names, especially Dos Locos in Quepos, Costa Rica. You know Jimmy Buffett could turn that into a song quickly. High on a shelf above the map of bars is an array of 100 Steeler autographed footballs owned by Shawn Spinda, a Kentucky collector.”
– Marylynne Pitz, “The Culture of Steeler Nation: CMU exhibit examines the soul of the team’s fans,” Sept. 8, 2010
BEHIND THE STEEL CURTAIN BLOG
“There is a large wall that lists Steelers bars around the world – useful to know, in case you find yourself in Qatar or Peru – and a list of all of the fan blogs. (I’m happy to say that Behind the Steel Curtain is first on the list!). There was another wall of beautiful photographs of Steelers tattoos – I gather they collected these at training camp and at the Lions game. And in the middle of everything, given pride of place, is Denny DeLuca’s amazing Steelers Room, and the man himself, there to explain it. […]
It was an almost unthinkable mix of contemporary-art types and Stillers fans, and it’s hard to imagine anything other than this event that would actually get them in the same room… a very clever and innovative idea.”
– Rebecca Rollett, “Whatever It Takes – A Look at Steeler Nation,” Behind the Steel Curtain, Sept. 10, 2010
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE Sports Blog
“Quite possibly is the first art exhibit in the known universe dedicated to Steelers fans. Whatever It Takes: Steelers Fan Collections, Rituals and Obsessions explores the passion of Steelers fans, and the mania, creativity and ritualistic behavior it inspires. […]
A map of the Steelers world. Only countries where confirmed Steelers fan clubs or bars exist are painted in, all other countries have been blacked out. The exhibit also makes a literal connection with the outer Steeler World — there is a bar set up in front of a screen with a wall-sized live Skype feed to the Roman Steelers bar, La Botticella, so that visitors could ostensibly chat with Asciugamano Terrible wavers over there.”
– Dan Gigler, “The Art of Steeler Fandom,” Sports Blog, Aug. 27, 2010