Untitled (Three Large Animals) is one of a series of works Nauman has made using ready-made taxidermic moulds which are normally used in modelling stuffed animals. It is closely related to Untitled (Two Wolves, Two Deer) (private collection) which was made earlier in the same year, and constructed from the same animal parts. In both works the artist has created hybrid creatures of impossible anatomical structure using the disparate sections of the two animals, wolf and deer. Their origin is made explicit in the earlier work through the title, but concealed in Three Large Animals. Although they are cast in aluminium, with a roughly scratched surface referring to the texture of fur, their bodies have a raw flayed-skin look. The absence of ears and the flat surfaces where limbs have been severed add to the impression of hanging carcasses. By using thin wire to join and suspend the animals in a circular formation, Nauman creates a sense of delicacy at odds with the brutality of the processes evoked by the animals' severed and reconstituted forms. Connecting predator and prey on an equalising level, the hybrids propose all animal life as similarly vulnerable.
The first work in this animal series, Carousel 1988 (Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague), rotates its hanging animals, dragging them across the floor in an allusion to the slaughterhouse. Untitled (Three Large Animals) hangs, instead, in the manner of a child's mobile. Like many of Nauman's political works made during the 1980s, which employed hanging girders and sculptural substitutes for bodies, it refers to the darker side of games played by both children and adults. The juxtaposition of organic animal form with industrial process and material provides a chilling reminder of the 'civilising' effects of technology on the natural world, a result of culture's victory over nature. It could also be interpreted as a suggestion of the cruelty inherent in human creativity, which today extends even as far as genetic cloning and attempts to breed across species. In 1989 Nauman moved to New Mexico, where he established his own ranch and took up horse-training.
Bruce Nauman, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1998
Kathy Halbreich and Neal Benezra, Bruce Nauman, exhibition catalogue, Walker Arts Centre, Minneapolis 1994
Joan Simon: 'Breaking the Silence: an interview with Bruce Nauman', Art in America, September 1988, pp.141-8 and 203