“Wounds: Between Democracy and Redemption in Contemporary Art” opened by dramatically juxtaposing images of decapitated heads and anatomical fragments by Théodore Géricault with Edvard Munch’s 1907 canvas The Death of Marat II. In the same room, Gerhard Richter’s Two Candles, 1983, accompanied Andy Warhol’s 1963 car crashes and Francis Bacon’s Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach, 1964. Viewers then passed through a door surrounded by Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Four Guillotine Blades, 1987, to encounter Malcolm Morley’s long horizontal work New York City Postcard, 1971, an enormous installation by Christian Boltanski, and a political painting by the late Dick Bengtsson (one of the few Swedes in this ambitious survey show). These two rooms gestured toward sketching a suggestive revisionist history linking early Modernism to art of the ’60s and ’70s. Bacon, Richter, and Warhol all deal—in their different ways—with “wounds,” as do Gericault and Finlay. But what did Morley’s painting have to do with this theme?

David Elliott, the new director of the Moderna Museet, writes in the show’s catalogue that his aim in assembling this show with cocurator Pier Luigi Tazzi was to identify art that takes “account of the dramatic social, political, cultural, ideological and aesthetic changes which have taken place” since the date of the museum’s founding in 1958. He hoped to demonstrate how the parallels between art and life can be enjoyed and understood in “moral-aesthetic” ways that “would have been unimaginable a decade ago.” “Wounds,” Elliott suggests, may “result from the incompatibility of democracy with individual freedom or redemption . . . the idea of the wound, along with democracy or redemption, provides a reference point which gives structure to the exhibition.” After the second room, this reference point ceased to be helpful. Perhaps Rebecca Horn’s Room of Mutual Destruction, 1992—two moving guns with mirrors—can be viewed as a commentary on the issues Elliott raises. But what did the photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher, or Jean-Marc Bustamante’s installation featuring caged birds, have to do with this theme? Did it reveal our “wounds” to contrast Eva Hesse’s sculptures with Anish Kapoor’s, or photos from the late ’60s by Diane Arbus and Bruce Nauman with recent ones by Larry Clark and Gunther Förg? The catalogue’s twelve essays fell short of answering this question.

“Wounds,” which marked the opening of the museum’s new building, highlighted the strengths and limitations of this structure designed by Rafael Moneo. The building’s entryway is so unobtrusive that it is only after walking past the admission desk that you can begin to see how spacious the museum actually is. Most of the show was installed on the ground floor of the main building; a smaller portion was set downstairs and in older buildings located in front of the entrance to the new space. One portion of “Wounds” effectively used the rooms of varying sizes on the new building’s ground floor, with their high ceilings topped off with lanterns providing natural light. The rest of the work shown there, however, was more awkwardly displayed on temporary partitions. Although installations by Louise Bourgeois, Jannis Kounellis, and Edward Kienholz were suggestively juxtaposed in one room, the narrow, long entryway was an inappropriate site for floor pieces by Carl Andre and Mario Merz.

Elsewhere in the museum appeared two other shows: “No one’s dogs: One hundred years of Swedish art,” and “Dialogues,” a provocative installation of works from the permanent collection. Unlike those exhibitions, “Wounds” had no particular connection to the history of the Modern Museet or to Sweden. This exhibition effectively introduced to the local public some of the best photography, sculpture, and installation art (there was very little recent painting) of the past few decades. The show was very successful, but only if one overlooked its heavy-handed thematic approach.

David Carrier