In Paris—New York—Shanghai, Dutch conceptual artist Hans Eijkelboom creates a clever and witty comparative study of three major contemporary metropolises, each selected for having been (or promising to be) the cultural capital of its time—Paris during the nineteenth century; New York, the twentieth; and Shanghai, the twenty-first. The work reveals how culture has become universal and instant communication has united East and West, diminishing individuality and collapsing geographic boundaries. As Eijkelboom writes, “Globalization, combined with the desire of cities for visually spectacular elements, is leading to the appearance everywhere of city centers that look the same and where identical products are sold.”
The work in the show combines traditional large format cityscapes with snapshot-style grids in which the artist hones in like a laser beam on everyday people in the streets broken down by type: men in stripped shirts, people wearing clothes with a camouflage print, mothers with children, taxi drivers, the homeless, people eating in restaurants, women carrying shopping bags, businessmen in suits, among others. The work is presented so that the viewer can compare simultaneously the three photographic studies of each metropolis and its citizens. While the images show how similar one city is to another today, closer examination of each series reveals the differences.
Eijkelboom’s work is very much in line with the deadpan, seemingly mechanistic note taking of Ed Ruscha and Hans-Peter Feldman. He spends several months in each city and about two hours shooting each category of subject. The shoot dates and locations are meticulously documented. Eijkelboom’s work examines the impact of globalization on national and cultural traditions. He is interested in the idea that the people he photographs perceive themselves as very independent, but, they are in fact, very similar as within any given two hour period during which a young woman buys a blouse in a department store in New York, ten other people will be buying the same blouse, during the same time period, for the same reason. He is fascinated by the tension between the individual and the mass in a mass-market society.