The Mona Lisa, being the world's most famous painting, is consistently the subject of conspiracy theories, unanswerable questions, heated scientific and historical debate, and, every so often, even endures an attempt at its destruction. While much of the attention paid to the painting revolves around uncovering the identity of the real woman depicted, the real-life location of the bridge, the secrets hidden in her smile or those encrypted in her eyes, Ute and Werner Mahler's MONALISEN DER VORSTÄDTE (Monalisas of the Suburbs) only takes root with the painting, therefrom transposing and conceptualizing many of the widely-agreed-upon art-historical notions about the Mona Lisa into a contemporary, real-world context.
Inspired perhaps by the Mona Lisa's half-smile, coupled with her marked distance from the viewer, her warmth in combination with her reserve, and the painting's perception as a not-quite-portrait, the Mahlers' MONALISEN DER VORSTÄDTE may be understood as an exploration of the in-between. Traveling to the suburban outskirts – the not quite city, not quite country areas that surround Reykjavik, Liverpool, Florence, Minsk and Berlin – the Mahlers set out to photograph "not a girl, not yet a woman"-age young ladies, interrupted during their commutes to work or to school. Asked to give their best Mona Lisa, every one of the chance-subjects knew the Mona Lisa well enough to give an impression, to have her face in mind when posing themselves – an indication that perhaps the Mahler's are also suggesting that these in-between girls represent the majority, each one an individual – but in the way that everyone is.
MONALISEN DER VORSTÄDTE was originally conceived as Ute and Werner Mahler's collaborative project for the Ostkreuz Photo Agency's group exhibition entitled "The City," inspired by the fact that, as of 2008, more than half of the world's population are now city-dwellers, having abandoned the countryside. Alongside the "Monalisas", the Mahlers exhibit cityscape-portraits of the locations themselves, the works portraying the "realest" or most ubiquitous versions of the cities – that is, the unadorned suburbs – as opposed to focusing on any outstanding features the city centers might contain.
After 40 years of marriage and careers as successful photographers in each their own right, this is the first time that Ute and Werner Mahler have worked together. Each a member of the Ostkreuz Photo Agency, the Mahlers currently live and work in Berlin.
In a limited edition of 500, a catalog also entitled MONALISEN DER VORSTÄDTE has been published by Meier and Müller, in accompaniment to this exhibition.