1 June—15 September 2019

Natural Selection

This exhibition has now finished.

Artist Andy Holden and his ornithologist father Peter take us on a journey from nest-building to egg-collecting. Or is it the other way around?

This exhibition brings together Andy and Peter’s personal collections of found objects with birdsong, a human-scale bower bird structure, delicate birds’ nests from our own collection, thousands of exquisite replica eggs and two new video works.

Darwin once considered the bowerbird as the closest thing to an artist found in nature. The male bowerbird builds a structure from sticks and decorates it with brightly coloured objects to attract a mate.

The first part of the exhibition features a human-scale arched structure made with willow to echo the elaborate bowerbird construction. It also features Andy’s collection of nests and Peter’s collection of feathers, alongside a number of wood-turned sculptures whose forms are derived from sonograms of bird song. 

The second part of the exhibition considers the psychology of egg collecting and how the desire to possess something rare can sometimes have terrible consequences.

The artist uses 7,130 replica eggs to imitate a hoard that was uncovered in Cleethorpes in 2006. Including numerous examples of eggs from endangered birds such as the osprey and golden eagle, it was the largest ‘bust’ of birds’ eggs in Britain. The painted porcelain eggs are so precisely realised that they are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

A show of marvels’ The Observer

‘A risky celebration of the dastardly life of birds
 – The Guardian

About Andy and Peter Holden

Birds have been a constant presence in the Holden household. Peter Holden is one of the UK’s leading ornithologists and ran the RSPB’s Young Ornithologists’ Club for over 30 years as well as penning several guidebooks on British birds. He was also Blue Peter’s ‘bird man’ and presented the BBC show Bird in the Nest in the 1990’s with Bill Oddie.

Watching a blackbird building a nest in his parents’ garden years ago, Andy began the extended conversation with his father which led to the Natural Selection exhibition.

Working on occasional joint lectures in museums around Britain, they honed in on an often overlooked aspect of bird life, the nest.


Natural Selection was co-commissioned with Artangel, Towner Art Gallery and Leeds Art Gallery with the support of the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Spike Island and Bristol Green Capital 2015, the Henry Moore Foundation and Artangel’s Guardian Angels. Find out more on the ArtAngel website.

Image: © Simon Warner

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