Joseph Beuys Fettbatterie

Joseph Beuys, Fettbatterie (Fat Battery) 1963–84
Presented by E.J. Power through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1984.

FOND VII/2 1967/84

Eight piles of felt, in varying heights, are topped with sheets of copper. The towers of felt create a powerful sense of architectural space. Their imposing presence is due partly to their scale, and partly to the contrast between the fibrous dark brown felt and the gleaming copper.

Some critics have seen this and related works by Beuys as a response to the American Minimalists. Artists such as Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt created superficially similar cubic structures, exploring ideas of space and revealing the distinctive qualities of their materials. But Beuys’s approach to sculpture was very far from the abstract impersonality of his American contemporaries. He described this work as a battery, with the felt as an insulator that could store energy and warmth, and the copper as a conductor that could transmit this energy beyond the object itself. As a child, Beuys was passionately interested in the natural sciences, and his use of materials is always undertaken with an understanding of their physical properties. The word ‘Fond’ in the title, means groundwork or foundation, and suggests the most basic encounter with materials.

Beuys also saw a close link between scientific and spiritual ideas. Ultimately, the battery stands for what Beuys believed to be the vital function of a work of art: the production of creative energy, unlocking a potential that exists in every viewer. It is telling that Beuys could also present a pile of newspapers - a stack of ideas - as a battery.


Beuys often talked about ‘warmth’ and ‘energy’ in relation to his work. Many of his sculptures incorporate materials that are associated with generating, storing or conducting energy. At times, he went as far as exhibiting functioning batteries that would release an electrical charge. Beuys used these ideas as a metaphor for the creative and spiritual energy that he believed art should foster both in the individual viewer and in society as a whole.