Flirting with Strangers Encounters with Works from the Collection

Why not, for once, look at a collection as a fabric of relationships among things and their encounters? And as an opportunity that, as Baudrillard put it, might establish an ‘everyday prose of objects, […] a triumphant unconscious discourse’? Picking up on this idea, Flirting with Strangers, the autumn exhibition on the ground floor of the 21er Haus, stages an exciting, playful, and sometimes also unexpected encounter of works from the collection. Is it necessary to have many things in common to “strike up a conversation”, or is it rather individual peculiarities that will ignite a spark?

Works of art are objects to which a particularly high degree of individuality is ascribed: none exactly resembles the other, and they are characterised by their uniqueness. This is why they are usually also considered worth collecting. Once chosen, they become one among many, which is one of the paradoxes inherent to collecting of comparing what is incomparable. Museum collections are generally associated with the systematisation of objects according to scientific categories and art historical classification criteria that are apt to establish connections, make sense, and, as powerful entities of interpretation, produce authoritative knowledge. And exhibitions are, after all, organisations and arrangements of knowledge, which, however, also have the potential to conceive alternative interpretations and that enable actualisation.
Central tasks of the 21er Haus comprise collecting, preserving, studying, and not least exhibiting contemporary Austrian art in an international context. Flirting with Strangers presents works by more than one hundred artists in a show that seeks to rethink the format of a collection exhibition: it deliberately unfolds along achronological lines and independent of the history of styles while occasionally emphasising seemingly negligible aspects or similarities that might be far fetched – with the intention to sharpen our focus on detail and the individual piece and at the same time to propose possible unexpected relationships among things.