With cruel calendric irony February 2020 will mark both the 27th anniversary of The Horse Hospital’s inaugural exhibition and also it’s forced closure as London’s longest running truly independent arts venue if it cannot meet, or successfully contest, an excessive 333% rent increase.
Set within a Grade II Listed Georgian building —the only existing unspoilt example of a two-floor, purpose built stable remaining for public access in the capital — this unique space receives no external grants, funding or sponsorship and is solely supported by its stablemate, The Contemporary Wardrobe Collection, the largest public access archive of post-war street fashion and youth culture in Europe.
For the past quarter of a century The Horse Hospital has sustained itself as a perfectly balanced ecosystem, with hires from the collection covering rent and running costs and thereby supporting the arts venue as a not-for-profit cultural organisation. But faced with such an overwhelming rent increase this ecosystem is unsustainable and there is imminent danger of The Horse Hospital becoming the latest landmark arts venue to fall victim to a deeply depressing and culturally damaging trend as rent increases deracinate London’s internationally renowned independent arts scene.
The Contemporary Wardrobe Collection, established in 1978 by costume designer, stylist, author, and artistic director of The Horse Hospital, Roger K. Burton, has 20,000 plus items which it regularly supplies not only to film, fashion, music and television clients nationally and internationally, but also to museums around the world. The roll call of people that The Contemporary Wardrobe collection has dressed over the years includes, David Bowie, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Kanye West, Angelina Jolie to name but a few. Also Jodie Comer’s character, Villanelle, in the award-winning TV series, Killing Eve. Since its inception The Contemporary Wardrobe Collection has also been renowned for being at the forefront of cutting edge style, acting as an essential resource and archive by fashion stylists, designers and brands such as Burberry, Victoria Beckham, Hugo Boss, Cos, Calvin Klein, Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Top Shop, YSL – rediscovering, reworking, redefining clothes from the past to begin whole new styles and trends.
Similarly, from the outset The Horse Hospital’s mission has been to provide the broadest possible access to the arts across a wide range of artistic activity and practice and to encourage risk, innovation and experimentation. Vive Le Punk, the exhibition with which it first opened its doors in 1993, was the first ever retrospective of the designs of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren and continued Roger K. Burton’s long collaboration with the pair, having designed and built their groundbreaking shops, World’s End and Nostalgia of Mud. Vive le Punk was equally groundbreaking, not least in redefining how items could be exhibited in museums and galleries, removing protective barriers and cases and initiating ‘interaction’, way before it became a de rigueur concept for shows. In addition the success of Vive le Punk lead major institutions and commentators to reevaluate the cultural importance of the work of Westwood / McLaren and add items to their collections.
The exhibition also, as Burton says, “paved the way for future experimental artists and curators to feel free to improvise with the space here as they thought fit”. Artists, practitioners and performers who have subsequently shown at The Horse Hospital include, among many others: Shepard Fairy, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Laurie Lipton, Marc Almond, Helen Chadwick, Mark Leckey, Bjarne Melgaard, Dennis Cooper, Rob Ryan, Joe Coleman, Lydia Lunch, Franko B, Morton Bartlett, Brian Griffin, Brice
Dellsperger, Bruce Bickford, Cameron Jamie, Morton Bartlett. Plus, Tai Shani, co- winner of the Turner Prize 2019, who was also a curator at The Horse Hospital for 12 years, also the late, celebrated artist and curator, Ian White, who had previously helped shape the space’s hybrid public programme before moving on to the Whitechapel Gallery and LUX. The list also includes hundreds of artists, performers, filmmakers and writers, whom it has been The Horse Hospital’s privilege to support and introduce over the years, who may otherwise have been denied a voice by more mainstream organisations, to an ever- growing, receptive and appreciative audience.
Prestigious organisations such as BFI, Hayward Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum, Barbican Centre, Shiseido Gallery in Tokyo and
Brooklyn Museum of Modern Art in New York have all worked in conjunction with The Horse Hospital and The Contemporary
Wardrobe over the years garnering international recognition. In 2015 Camden Council awarded The Horse Hospital Asset of
Community Value (ACV) status, recognising how it benefits the social wellbeing and social interests of the local community. This has also been key to The Horse Hospital’s success whilst also building a community that is of local, national and international importance and repute, providing a unique and distinctive arts and artist-led environment in which the arts can flourish for the benefit of local residents, tourists, visitors and practitioners alike. The loss of The Horse Hospital is a loss that would impact far and wide.
Image credit: Edwardx