Leonard Cohen: Une brèche en toute chose / A Crack in Everything

Leonard Cohen on train, part of show at Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
(© Old Ideas, LLC )


04 April 2018 | Mark Beech | BlouinArt

“It is almost your last chance to see a spectacular art show inspired by Leonard Cohen in Montréal – before it heads out on tour.

The Canadian poet, novelist, singer and songwriter, who died in 2016 aged 82, has been feted for months in his birth city.

The exhibition at Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) is called “A Crack in Everything.” That’s a reference to Cohen’s song “Anthem,” which says: “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

The display does a great service in showing how Cohen’s gravelly voiced, poetic songs, life and legacy admired, inspired, influenced or otherwise moved more than 40 contributors from 10 countries. The commissioned works and installations are by artists such as Kara Blake, Candice Breitz, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Tacita DeanThomas Demand, Kota Ezawa, George Fok, Clara Furey, Jenny HolzerJon Rafman, Michael Rakowitz, Zach Richter, Sharon Robinson and Taryn Simon. The multidisciplinary exhibition includes visual and performance art as well as virtual reality and the written word.

Holzer, in a statement put out by MAC, explained her fascination with Cohen: “A political poet-singer — ‘Democracy is coming to the USA,’ he croaked with doses of irony — and a writer who could remind listeners and readers of shared vulnerability — ‘Like a bird on a wire’ — Cohen lived wild and long, and traveled in song across pathos and lust.” The latter song’s opening words could be Cohen’s epitaph: “like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried on my way to be free.”

Leonard Cohen
via Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

Musicians invited to record an exclusive cover of a Cohen song for the show included Aurora; Chilly Gonzales and Jarvis Cocker with The Kaiser Quartett; Moby; and The National with Sufjan Stevens.

“One of my earliest memories is my mom playing piano and singing ‘Suzanne,’” Moby said in an e-mailed release. “It’s still my favorite of Leonard’s songs.” The lyric, well known for its version by Judy Collins, includes the words “you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.”

Cohen himself also features with an immersive multi-screen show of his concerts over five decades. There are also plenty of interviews, archive footage and manuscripts to view. While Cohen is often seen as a serious man, sometimes satirized as “Laughing Len,” his barbed wit was ever present and this breaks through everywhere.

Leonard Cohen
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

Of course, prominent homage is paid to his composition “Hallelujah,” known for its version by Jeff Buckley among many others, and its ending “even though it all went wrong, I stand before the Lord of song, with nothing on my tongue but ‘hallelujah.’”

We get a picture of a man who mixed spirituality and sex over a lifetime seeking love and enlightenment. He was rich, he was poor, he tried a monkish retreat and he signed off with the album “You Want It Darker” (reviewed here) which gave strong hints that his time on earth was limited with the gloomy intoning of the words “I’m ready, my lord.”

He ended up with a lifetime Grammy, and Princess of Asturias Award, and was seen by some as having better claims to the Nobel Prize than Bob Dylan. Still, Cohen said that the gratitude and attention of a concert audience meant far more to him.

Leonard Cohen
via Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

Cohen gave consent to the MAC exhibition concept while alive and the show was in development for two years. It opened exactly a year after Cohen’s passing and also marked Montréal’s 375th anniversary.

The Sanchez Brothers have a holographic and mixed-media installation in the exhibition called “I Think I Will Follow You Very Soon.” Cohen scholars will spot this as a reference to his lover Marianne Ihlen, who was subject of the song “So Long Marianne.” After her death in 2016, Cohen published an open note to her, touchingly saying, “our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon.”

Museums have found that rock-based shows have proved to be a ticket draw and a money-spinner as a touring prospect. The London Victoria and Albert Museum shows such as “David Bowie Is” and “Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains” will be joined by the National Portrait Gallery’s “Michael Jackson: On the Wall,” which already has a large itinerary of dates confirmed.

Leonard Cohen, Self-Portraits, 2003-2016, 2017
Drawing projection produced by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
via Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

While the MAC has said its show will tour from June 2018 onward, as of today, April 4, it is still unable to confirm any exact dates or venues. Blouin ARTINFO will update as and when these become available.


“Leonard Cohen: Une brèche en toute chose / A Crack in Everything” continues at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC), 185 Sainte-Catherine Quest (Corner Jeanne-Mance) Montréal, Quebec, through April 9.


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