Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything



of an Exhibit

by Maria Nikitin

Published on June 04, 2019

  • Museum: Jewish Museum

  • Visit Date: June, 2019

  • Description:

    It’s rather interesting when an art museum decides to put on an exhibition featuring a non-visual artist. There are no traditional artworks to be placed on the walls or the floor. In fact, if it’s a performing artist, much of his or her oeuvre may be ephemeral — existing only during its performance. So how do you create an experience that captures the essence of such an artist? How do you go beyond just showcasing video upon video of his or her performances?

    The current exhibition at the Jewish Museum, Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything, offers a glimpse into the limitless creativity that’s out there. The first thing I noticed as I walked into the darkened gallery on the first floor was a makeshift auditorium, much smaller of course than a real theatre, but with a similar effect. Making my way through a crowd of onlookers standing in one of the two narrow doorways, I saw a multidimensional projection of the artist, stretching over three walls of the room and playing clips from various concerts that Leonard Cohen had given throughout his long career. One of the most touching aspects to this projection were the juxtaposition of his younger and older selves singing the same song and yet with very different feeling. The crowd of people around me, some sitting on benches, others on the floor, and others — simply standing, as if mesmerized by the velvety voice of the singer, seemed to sway to the calming lull of the music, the simple tunes of which seemed to carry profound meaning.

    As I climbed the stairs to the second floor, I could hear the familiar tune of probably one of Leonard Cohen’s most famous works “Alleluia,” a distant humming that increased in volume as I drew closer. Following the sound, I came into a room with a centrally-placed semi-circular ottoman and dozens of microphones suspended above the ottoman from the ceiling, which, similarly to the people on the first floor, swayed ever so lightly in the space. There was no one else in the room when I entered, and the guard invited me to sit down and join my hum to the several hundred other hums of people simultaneously participating worldwide in an online project called “I Heard There Was a Secret Chord.” The feeling of uniting your voice with so many others concurrently and being with them, literally, on the same wavelength, was very powerful, especially combined with the choice of song.

    On that same floor, I saw a screening of the several hundred self-portraits that the artist had made of himself in various iterations over several decades, done as a sort of looped slide show, with one portrait quickly replacing another. It was interesting to see how many portraits Cohen produced digitally, which made me think of visual artists such as David Hockney who have recently started experimenting with iPad art and find it much more accessible and practical. In the gallery adjacent to the portraits, I found another participatory installation. Placed in the center of a room was an organ with multiple and varied speakers standing on both sides of it. Some were on the floor, others — stacked on top, and all creating a sort of semicircle around the seated visitor who was invited to sit at the organ and play its keys. And with every key, came a reading of a different poem of Cohen’s. You could press just one key and listen to that one poem, or you could play a chord and listen to a symphony of poems, all with their different tones and patterns, and all read by Cohen himself.

    Overall, the exhibition presents a beautiful collection of responses by international artists to Leonard Cohen’s life and work. A tribute to his multifaceted and complex artist and an exploration of our own relationship with music and poetry.

Latest Comments (1)

some questions

by Kathleen Mclean - June 04, 2019

Thanks Maria. Although your review was descriptive, I’m wondering about the scale of the exhibition, and how many different elements there were. Did the exhibition have more elements than you describe here? Until I read the last paragraph, I didn’t understand that the exhibition contained works by different artists. Was this a mix of Cohen’s original work and also other artists’ responses to his work? Was there a particular point of view presented by the exhibition, or was it more generally a tribute to the man and his work?

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