The 2011 edition of The Cal — aka the Pirelli calendar — is upon us and, lest you had any doubts about whether this was high art (and not just corporate hucksterism), consider this: this year’s edition was conceived and shot by living legend Karl Lagerfeld and unveiled yesterday in Moscow’s Stanislavsky Theatre, one of the cornerstones of Russian heritage.
The Cal is a very heavy piece of work indeed this year. Titled “Mythology“, its 36 black-and-white photos depict highly romanticized visions of ancient Greek and Roman gods, goddesses and mythological heroes. Sometimes nude (ie., Daria Werbowy in the bottom left image), sometimes strategically covered up with metallic paint, metal nipple covers or even a brass codpiece. And why not? They might be gods, but they’re not crazy.
Judged on its artistic merits alone, The Cal is quite an achievement. Lagerfeld has drawn liberally from classical sculpture to reiterate ancient archetypes of beauty, virility and ageless youth with just enough contemporary design and fashion embellishments to make it seem both modern and relevant. Merely juxtaposing 40-something actress Julianne Moore with the fleet of sleek sculpted bods is itself a bold, brave statement for both photographer and subject.
Any skepticism we have about all this is reserved for Pirelli, which gets a lot of mileage (pardon the pun) out of the calendar while keeping it out of the hands of the people who ultimately pay for it. It’s a collector’s item reserved for select Pirelli clients, suppliers and VIPs, not something you’ll see hanging on your mechanic’s wall.
The Pirelli calendar is always a plum assignment for the anointed photographer and a centerpiece in the portfolio of any model chosen to appear. For the rest of us, though, its exclusivity makes it culturally irrelevant. Think of it this way: if Michelangelo’s David was kept in a private collection, would it still resonate throughout the ages?
Pirelli, of course, sees the calendar for what it is — good PR. The company even finds a way to align Lagerfeld’s artistic neo-classical vision with its own corporate mission.
“Mythology … takes the Pirelli calendar back to the Old World,” the company says in its press release, “where nearly 140 years ago a company was born that was to become a multinational organization with operations in over 160 nations around the world.” I did NOT make that up!
Hmm …. as I recall, most of those Greek and Roman myths had a moral, and it usually involved something like the folly of hubris. You’d think we would have learned by now.
You can learn more about the Pirelli calendar here, where they’ll tell you why you can’t have one.