This installation of works from the permanent collection was organized by the New York–based artist Piotr Uklański (born Poland, 1968), whose photographs are on view in the current exhibition Fatal Attraction: Piotr Uklański Photographs. His chosen theme is Eros and Thanatos—the intertwined concepts of life force and death wish that Sigmund Freud interpreted as warring within each individual and within Western civilization as a whole. Although long since discredited as psychological truth, Eros and Thanatos is a hardy cultural construct—from the quintessentially French description of climax as "la petite morte" to Richard Wagner's "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde to Woody Allen's Love and Death.
While some aspect of love or death could describe a sizable percentage of the Met's collection, Uklański largely eschewed the obvious—the death throes of saints and heroes or staples of erotica such as Japanese woodcuts—in the loans from eleven curatorial departments that comprise the exhibition. The artist has instead looked for objects that resonate with specific qualities in his own practice: the perverse pull of the repellent, the erotic and poetic allure of the fragment, and masquerade as the artifice that allows for the dissolution of boundaries between self and other, life and death. Toward this end, Uklański included three examples of his own work in addition to those shown in the survey in the Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography (gallery 851).