Executed in 1989, Untitled (Wax Cat) is one of the earliest works inspired by the taxidermy models that would become such a crucial medium in the oeuvre of Bruce Nauman, the artist representing the United States of America at the 2009 Venice Biennale. It was in 1988 that Nauman had initially discovered a shop in New Mexico that sold the moulds used as supports by taxidermists when stuffing animals; he was struck by their eerie forms, by the almost featureless approximations of creatures that they represented, and created a range of works using them as his raw materials. In some, he assembled animals in their entirety, whereas in others such as Untitled (Wax Cat), executed in 1989, he disassembled and reconfigured the constituent parts. Here, the limbs of the cat, of a traditional pet, have become strange props jutting out from its centre resulting in a bizarre, balancing chimera.
Nauman has long been fascinated by the space that both sculptures and the artist occupies, and this is perfectly demonstrated by the strange, disrupted forms of Untitled (Wax Cat). Nauman's earlier works had often explored the way that the artist is exposed through his oeuvre by creating sculptures that contained oblique and tangential references to his own body or name, such as Neon Templates of the Left Half of My Body Taken at Ten-Inch Intervals or My Name As Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon. Following the discovery of the taxidermy shop, these tentative experimental explorations of the space that the artist occupies were continued through the form of a range of sculptures featuring animal armatures. In Untitled (Wax Cat), the reconfiguration of the animal's legs reflects that same awkwardness at the notion of displaying oneself that Nauman explored in those other works, examining and deliberately revealing the flaws of his selected artistic media and thereby exposing the inherent impossibility of true communication. In this way, Untitled (Wax Cat) becomes a more general comment on the limitations of the human condition in general.
Nauman's choice of material in Untitled (Wax Cat) itself has a wide range of implications. Wax has an unusual, uncanny appearance that is all the more striking here because of its use as the medium for a sculpture of an animal usually associated with the domestic, the homely. Crucially, considering Untitled (Wax Cat)'s status as a sculpture-about-sculpture, wax is often associated not with finished works but instead with an original intended to be cast in metal. Nauman has long used it as a medium in its own right, perhaps tapping into this notion that some form of transformation was still under way, as was exemplified in his famous 1967 work Henry Moore Bound to Fail (back view). That sense of mutability is heightened by the nature of wax as a material that melts, that is pliable, that is even associated with candles and that through all this invokes the ephemeral, allowing Nauman to undermine the language of monumentality and permanence so often associated with sculpture.