Maurizio Cattelan's Untitled shows three mice on a miniature deckchair next to a beach umbrella, a comic, dystopian twist on the modern idyll of a family holiday by the beach. This work was created in 1997, the same year that Cattelan created perhaps his most famous taxidermy artwork, Turisti at the Venice Biennale. In that work, stuffed pigeons were placed in the rafters of the Italian pavilion, often acting as decoys and attracting real pigeons which came and sat with them. As its title suggested, Cattelan was to some degree transposing an element of human behaviour to the inert animals, a process that he has taken even further in Untitled with its holidaying mice lounging around. This is a contemporary re-boot of the Victorian penchant for tableaux of taxidermied animals such as kittens taking tea.
Untitled brings the viewer's attention to the strange, reflex habit of humans to anthropomorphise animals and indeed almost anything else, taking it to a wry extreme; yet underpinning the humour and incongruousness of this scene lurks a more serious atmosphere. Indeed, Cattelan himself has said that all his stuffed animals are ultimately 'about loss, about absence, about death' (Cattelan, quoted in N. Spector, 'Interview', pp. 6-36, op. cit., Maurizio Cattelan, London, 2000, p. 26). This was most overtly encapsulated in his work from the previous year, Bidibibodibiboo, which showed a squirrel which appeared to have committed suicide in a grubby kitchen. In Untitled, Cattelan has removed the overt reference to death or depression, yet of course they linger in the form of the stuffed animals themselves. Cattelan focuses on distinctly human notions of pathos, humour and relaxation in Untitled. Even the diminutive scale of this work heightens the sense of pity that it evokes through the engaging sweetness of the child-like mice squeezed on their tiny chair that is in marked contrast to the imposing presence of Hirst's sharks and cows. There is a cartoonish, comical aspect to Untitled that evokes Mickey Mouse (or as the Italians refer to him, Topolino), toys and fairytales: these mice are playthings for adults, and have adult implications.
The contrast between life and death that is explored so eloquently in Untitled is accentuated by the fact that animals themselves are considered to be oblivious to their own mortality. Here, then, are three existential blind mice. Explaining why in his 'opinion the highest form of human art is tragedy,' Cattelan expanded in words which encapsulate the sense of passivity and inevitability at the centre of Untitled:
'we are, maybe, the only creatures who are intimately aware of the fact that we're going to die, even when death is not imminent. We know death is a fearful thing. But other creatures fear it when it is there: a big gaping jaw is about to eat them. We humans will just be sitting, and all of a sudden we might go, 'Oh shit, I'm going to die'' (Maurizio Cattelan, quoted in B. Casavecchia, 'I Want to Be Famous - Strategies for Successful Living', pp. 132-39, op. cit., Maurizio Cattelan, London, 2000, p. 138).