AAJ Press
Art & Public Space, Commissions, New Books, Sculpture

Ordinary Architecture, Foundation Myths, York Art Gallery


Vicky Prior reviews York Art Gallery’s first garden installation.

I really wanted to like Foundation Myths, the first installation in the new Artists Garden at York Art Gallery. The renovation of York Art Gallery is superb, and deservedly led to a nomination for Museum of the Year. The much lauded Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) exhibition is cleverly displayed, with old and new pieces organised by colour and visitors are encouraged to touch some of the ceramics.

Which leads me to my problem with Foundation Myths, a commission by Ordinary Architecture of ten bright yellow, ceramic tree trunks installed in the Artist’s Garden. Despite the sculptures being hardy enough to withstand Yorkshire weather they have been roped off. The trunks are the perfect height to be sat on but it has been decided that Yorkshire bottoms will be too much of a trial. I wouldn’t usually advocate using sculpture as seating, but children would get a lot of pleasure out of climbing over these cheerful trees that absolutely scream ‘funky picnic spot’. 

The sculpture is a historical reminiscence of the space’s time as an orchard for St Mary’s Abbey, now a ruin next door. It was a good idea in theory, but in practice the stunted trunks don’t celebrate life and growth in the way I was expecting. The press release from Ordinary Architecture, the artist/architect/designer behind the sculpture, suggested an abundance of trees and more of an arboreal experience, and just trunks is a disappointment.

The two acre site of the Artist’s Garden also includes an Edible Wood, which is much more successful. Plants are allowed to grow wild with signs explaining what each plant is and what it is used for, and the Gallery runs drawing and painting classes. By comparison, the yellow tree trunks turn insipid. Once seen, they don’t invite a closer look or further exploration. Foundation Myths is the first installation for the Artist’s Garden, and fell far short of expectation. I hope future work provides more inspiration.

Foundation Myths is a new commission by Ordinary Architecture. The installation, with title derived from the frontispiece of Marc-Antoine Laugier’s Essay on Architecture, which depicts the first architectural structure as an assemblage of tree trunks, was produced especially for the Artists Garden, and draws on the rich history of the site and its many uses over the centuries.


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Marc-Antoine Laugier. Frontispiece from Essai sur l’architecture

Ordinary Architecture is an art, architecture and design practice started in 2013 by Charles Holland and Elly Ward. They have created 10 bright yellow ceramic tree trunks varying in height which will be positioned in parallel rows. The forms are inspired by the persistent myth that architecture evolves directly from nature and refers to the area’s former use as an orchard as well as the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey within the abbey precinct.


This is the first work to be shown in the Artists Garden which is part of a new two acres of space recently opened to the public at York Art Gallery.

Foundation Myths: York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square, York YO1 7EW

Images: Foundation Myths by Charles Holland, Ordinary Architecture. Photograph © Anthony Chappel-Ross


About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


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