Joseph Beuys

Animal Woman

1949, cast 1984

Original title
Object: 315 x 79 x 85 mm
Presented by the artist 1984

Display caption

The elements shown in this first vitrine were acquired by Tate as individual works. Beuys later decided to place them together to match the groups of objects in the other two vitrines, which he had designed himself. Several of the sculptures incorporate bronze castings of a female torso, originally carved in wood by Beuys. In Bathtub for a Heroine, the figure is combined with an electric element and a copper cast of a mammoth's tooth. In Animal Woman, she seems to merge with a piece of industrial piping; while in Bed, she floats suspended between the jaws of a clamp. Fat Battery consists of various fat and felt elements, combined by Beuys to suggest the shape and function of a battery, reflecting his concern with the generation and storage of energy.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

Joseph Beuys 1921-1986

T03921 Animal Woman 1949

Bronze 315 x 79 x 85 (12 x 3 1/8 x 3 3/8) in an edition of seven with one artist's proof
Not inscribed
Presented by the artist 1984

The three works T03919, T03920 and T03921, along with 'Bed' 1950 (T01542, described in Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, 1981, p.52), were arranged by the artist (in 1984) in a vitrine measuring 2060 x 2200 x 500 (81 1/8 x 96 5/8 x 19 3/4), which complements the two vitrines already in the Collection (T03825 and T03826). Previously, T01542 and T03919 had both been displayed individually.

The fat in T03919 is margarine made from coconut oil, bleached white through the passage of time. When the artist came to the Gallery to install the third vitrine in July 1984, he was particularly pleased to note the minute changes that had taken place, mainly due to the slow absorption of the fat by the cardboard container. The 'battery' of the title suggests the generation of energy and its storage with conductivity expressed through the metal parts of the work. This theme of communication is a continual preoccupation in Beuy's work. In a letter to the compiler dated 18 July 1988 Eva Beuys, the artist's widow, writes 'the objects [which comprise T03919] were never part of a specific action. But what Beuys himself meant by an action still has to be clarified. Maybe placing the objects in vitrines is an action. Or the materials they are made of, are, perhaps, remnants of materials used for other actions and taken home. He never threw anything away, so that also could account for calling them parts of an action'.

T03919 consists of various fat and felt sculptures reproduced individually in Tisdall 1979, p.156 and in Adriani, Konnertz and Thomas 1973, p.63) collected in their present box. Another 'Fat Battery' of the same year received similar treatment: illustrated in Tisdall 1979, p.156, the five felt and fat sculptures, here all layered pieces without any metal elements, were later put into a box. In a letter to the compiler dated 30 June 1988, Anny De Decker, who ran the Wide White Space Gallery in Antwerp until its closure in 1975, writes 'the photographs in the Guggenheim catalogue show the content of the two boxes (Fat Batteries), taken by Ute Klophaus in the presence of Beuys. At the same time that we acquired [T03919] we bought another one, very different, which was sold in Germany'. Each work is a variation of Beuys's use of 'materials never used in sculpture before' (Tisdall 1979, p.156). In July 1963 Beuys had used fat for the first time in an action at the Rudolf Zwirner Gallery, Cologne. The qualities intrinsic to fat have been described as follows:

A subtle differentiating ability for sculptural and material qualities as well as for the evident validity of certain raw materials reveals fat to be an energy which burns in the body and is therefore organic, a freely composed, dynamic potential that - relatively open as to the result - moves from a chaotic, formless state to simple form ... Through the reversionary consistency of fat one can observe the changing of substance back to the formless state ... The solid, static qualities of fat, which because of its homogeneity can effect the generation, insulation, and preservation of heat, are obviously linked to Beuys' realization of the amorphous (Götz Adriani, Winfried Konnertz and Karin Thomas, Joseph Beuys Life and Works, New York 1979, p.97).

Felt, with which the fat is combined in T03919, possesses other qualities. Tisdall, quoting Beuys, writes of felt 'as an insulator, as a protective covering against other influences, or conversely as a material that permits infiltration from outside influences. Then there is the warmth character, the greyness which serves to emphasize the colors that exist in the world by a psychological after-image effect, and the silence as every sound is absorbed and muffled' (Tidsall 1979, p.120).

Comparison between a photograph taken on acquisition in 1984 and a photograph of the work taken in 1966 at the Wide White Space Gallery, Antwerp, shows how the fat has seeped from the tin, has been squeezed from between the layers of felt and has been absorbed by the cardboard box which contains the various elements of T03919.

When Beuys came to install the vitrine in July 1984, he brought with him the first trial castings for 'Bathtub for a Heroine' and 'Animal Woman' (T03920 and T03921 respectively). T03920 consists of two separate sculptures combined when cast in 1984 to form 'Bathtub for a Heroine' (cast in an edition of seven, with one artist's proof). According to the artist's assistant Heiner Bastian, Beuys decided on the title in 1984 following the casting of the two separate works (Heiner Bastian [ed.], Joseph Beuys: Skulpturen und Objekte,, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin 1988, p.330). Bastian dates the work 1950/84 in view of the date of the earliest component and the date of the casting. In the letter from Eva Beuys cited above, the early history of the work and its component parts is outlined. She also gives a different dating, 1950-61, the two dates the parts were actually made. It was common for Beuys to rename works or transfer titles, thus relating works previously unconnected. He also adapted and recombined various elements in the works which comprise T03920.

The part of T03920 which on its own was called 'Stove' was assembled in its present form in 1950. It comprises an upper part called 'Torso'. This was originally made of wood, although Eva Beuys writes that the date is unknown, and cast in bronze in 1948. The following year it was retitled 'Corset' and combined with a band around the figure. 'In 1950 the wooden figure was fixed in the shape of "Stove" or "Heroine" (I imagine both titles are correct)', Eva Beuys writes. 'Corset' was included in the installation of Beuys's work in Darmstadt, known as the 'Darmstadt Block' (an installation of Beuys's work in the Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, begun in 1968 and continually expanded up to his death). A further use of the 'Torso' figure, not mentioned by Eva Beuys, is 'Untitled' 1949-50, illustrated in Bastian (ed.) 1988, pl.5 private collection). Here, two versions of 'Torso' are lashed together with a thong, coated with wax and placed in a cardboard box. The 'Torso' was also one of the components of 'Bed' (T01542), first made in 1950, cast in bronze in 1966 and cast in an edition of six with one artist's proof in 1970. When the 'Torso' was integrated with the cubical and cylindrical shapes to become 'Stove' in 1950, it was severed just above the knee.

'Stove' or 'Heroine' was combined with 'Bathtub' in 1984 to form 'Bathtub for a Heroine'. Eva Beuys relates the development of the work: 'Bathtub' was first made in 1961. Beuys made a cast of a mammoth's tooth in copper with brass traces. Another cast was made in 1964. 'Bathtub' consists of the cast of the mammoth's tooth, the electric element, an irregularly shaped piece of felt and a mound of fat. In 1984 a further eight casts (an edition of seven with one artist's proof) was made from the version of 1961. They are now part of 'Bathtub for a Heroine' (T03920), minus the piece of felt and mound of fat.

T03921, which was made in 1949 and originally cast from a wooden figure, is also the artist's proof of an edition of seven bronzes cast in 1984, although T03921 is without its casting plug (see reproduction of the editioned casts for 'Stove' and 'Animal Woman' in Joseph Beuys: Zwei Skulpturen 1949, 1950, Galerie Schellmann & Kluser, Munich 1984, [p.3]). In each of these editions dating from 1984 Beuys was anxious to achieve variety in the casting process: he has retained the casting seams and as a result each cast is minutely differentiated from the others.

In her letter, Eva Beuys comments on the title of T01542, 'Bed'. She writes that the this was the original title of the third version of 'Grauballemann' 1952 (Ströher Collection, Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt; repr. Tisdall 1979, p.35). The later name was bestowed in 1969: 'through this the original title "Bed" became free, "Bed" migrated as a title to another work [T01542] ..., thus this sculpture has a connection with "Grauballemann" '.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.97-8