Take iconic photos of local athletes — say Roberto Clemente, Josh Gibson, Sid Crosby, to name a few — and add an artist’s vision along with background about the athlete. The result, displayed in Downtown windows, is a project called Downtown Renown featuring 14 works of art by local artist Gavin Benjamin.
It’s a project from the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) that is combining art and athletics to draw people to the City of Champions.
The PDP teamed up with the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center for the photos and Lawrenceville artist Benjamin did his thing, remixing the photos and backdrop and creating his signature collage and for each piece. You’ll see Bill Mazeroski poised to hit a World Series-winning home run. Franco Harris cradling a football. Suzie McConnell-Serio dribbling a basketball down the court.
Other celebrity subjects include Arnold Palmer, John Woodruff, Joe Greene, Mario Lemieux, Chuck Cooper, Swin Cash, Dan McCoy and Honus Wagner.
“For Clemente, I wanted to talk about his Puerto Rican heritage so I was looking at imagery from Puerto Rico,” says Benjamin. For Arnold Palmer, he asked the question, how would I dress now if I was a golfer?
“It was more like fantasy, having fun,” he says. “It was was all about bringing movement to these images and bringing the energy of the sports to the pieces.” He also enjoyed taking a deep dive and learning more about the sports figures. (Note: Eight of these works will be at Boxheart Gallery for a November show.)
Local sportscasters Bob Pompeani, Rich Walsh, and Josh Taylor of KDKA-TV provided insight and recommendations regarding the selection of athletes.
Each window offers a unique image, as well as a career outline of the athlete, with a QR code to take you to more detailed biographies.
“Downtown Renown continues a long legacy of PDP support for public art, while also introducing a sports theme that really resonates with the community,” says Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the PDP. “These athletes are so worthy of this kind of recognition given their commitment, endurance and talents, and their stories are exceptional. We hope that people are inspired by the art, but also learn more about the rich heritage of Pittsburgh sports.”
This is the third public artwork commission by the PDP as part of their REFORGE Downtown initiative, which invites people to the area for safe, socially distant events and public art exhibitions. It runs through the end of 2020.
In August, artist Jayla Patton painted a 3,500-square-foot street mural on the 900 block of Penn Avenue between 9th and 10th streets.
Earlier this month, the PDP collaborated with Janel Young to curate social distance designs called New Space Spheres. Young and four additional local artists — Ebtehal Badawi, Juliandra Jones, Higu Rose and Kamara Townes — created large circular graphics that merge original art and safety messages. They adorn a variety of Downtown locations, including streets, windows and bus shelters.
“I strongly believe that beyond beautification, art is a communication tool, especially in a time where we are redefining and reshaping how we interact with the people around us,” Young says. “Combining informative public health messaging with colorful inspiring designs from local artists felt like a great way to drive the safety messages for Downtown Pittsburghers.”