Hailing a new kind of gallery
Taxi drivers tend to have views on most subjects, but contemporary art is a new departure. LOUISA BUCK meets the driving force behind the Cab Gallery
JASON Brown's Cab Gallery is literally a vehicle for art, a black cab devoted to showing works in all media as well as transporting passengers. "It just seemed a natural thing to do, I've always been interested in art," says Brown, who has been driving a cab for three years, after leaving a career in restaurant management. "I never wanted advertising, but when I was looking at the tip-up seat displays, I thought why not use them fot art?"
Since Brown set up the gallery a year ago his-tip-ups have played host to spectral paintings by Susie Hamilton, Donald Smith's moody "mug shot" photographs, and Simon Wood's enigmatic lists: of dead LondonersĐincludlng Mary Tudor, Samuel Pepys and William BlakeĐand non-Londoners who have died in the city, from Anne Boleyn to Bernie Grant.
But the art doesn't stop with the tip-ups "Everything, inside and out, is specifically made for the Cab Gallery," states Brown; even his receipts are printed with the gallery details and the artists' names. For its first months Cab Gallery's passenger doors were emblazoned with TAXY in red and yellow block capitals, by Bob and Roberta Smith. This has since been substituted with Sunny, a portrait of a shaggy dog by American artist Alex Katz.
"I wrote to him and he sent this work back, saying he'd love to see it on the side of a cab. He seems to have an emotional attachment to the dog."
Other major-league artists approached by Brown include Christo and Jean Claude, and American conceptualist Lawrence Weiner, who are all submitting work in the New Year. There are also sound pieces by Brian Eno and Susan Hiller in the pipeline.
As it is a working taxi Cab Gallery's exhibits have to be submitted for approval by the Hackney Carriage Office. This has been largely good-humoured if somewhat bemused by its role as selection committee, although last year it did refuse permission for Jemima Stehli's photographs of suggestively crossed female legs to be installed on the bucket seats.
Inside, passengers are regaled by such pieces as a cassette of Abigail Cohen singing Robert De Niro's famous "All the animals come out at night" speech from the movie Taxi Driver.
Then there's Claudia Reyes's Air Cab headrests and a number of artists' books including one by Peter Liversidge on zany proposals for the cab - like convert it into a giant 99 Flake Ice Cream - and a book of drawings made by Susie Hamilton during a taxi journey between Soho and Swiss Cottage. "People can just flick through, because they don't have much time, so it has to be quick."
Yet although every part of the Cab Gallery is permeated with art, passengers often miss it altogether. "But once they realise what it is, I've had some fantastic conversations," says Brown.
Ever since he bought his first artwork over a decade ago ("a Holman Hunt etching, but my tastes have changed over the years"), Brown has been a dedicated art collector. However, although he owns pieces by many of the artists he exhibits and curates his shows in collaboration with art dealer Paul Stolper, he sees his private collecting as distinct from the art he displays while behind the wheel.
Cab Gallery is a labour of love, not a commercial venture, and he's determined to keep it that way. "It's great not to have to sell anything, there's no pressure at all. It can just be enjoyed. We're not forcing art on people, it's just there."