The words, music, and life of Leonard Cohen are the basis of a new exhibit at the Musee d’Art Contemporain de Montreal. Intended as an ode to the city’s native son who passed away in November 2016 — months after granting the exhibit’s curators his blessing — A Crack In Everything deconstructs Cohen’s works, only to reconstruct them through a variety of media.
“It’s unusual for a museum to devote six large galleries to the celebration of a musician essentially — or a poet, even,” says director and chief curator John Zeppetelli, “but we embarked fearlessly and stayed within the mandate of the MAC by commissioning contemporary artistic reflections on various aspects of Cohen’s output.”
More than forty artists, musicians, filmmakers, and performers were commissioned to interpret Cohen’s work in any way they saw fit, illustrating just how rich the original text is and the import it carries for generations of artists.
As the installations examine Cohen’s work through a new lens, Zeppetelli was firm in assessing the type of show visitors would experience. “The idea was never to do a biographical survey — to collect his suits and fedoras and old photographs; it was about celebrating Cohen as a cultural figure who was present in the culture for five decades.”
Some of the installations are straight-forward. One, a large, dimly lit room where cover versions of Cohen’s songs are played; in another, concert footage of Cohen are projected on massive screens that wrap around the room.
While some focused more on Cohen’s work as a singer, others manipulated his poetry. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, for instance, placed a vintage Wurlitzer organ in the centre of a room. Surrounding it are old speakers and gramophone horns. When a key is pressed on the organ, one can hear Cohen himself deliver one of his poems from his 2006 collection, Book of Longing.
“Hallelujah”, arguably Cohen’s most famous song at the time of his passing, is at the centre of a multimedia piece designed to show just how world-renowned the song truly is. Visitors are invited inside a circular room where they can hear the song being hummed. In the middle are several microphones hanging from the ceiling. Above them is a constantly changing number that indicates how many people around the world are currently listening to the track via an online streaming service. Those inside can hum into the microphones and lend their voices as the sound swells with every new listener.
While some are simple, others rely heavily on technology but never lose their poignancy. The piece below recreates a photo taken of Cohen in his Los Angeles home. A hologram of the late singer is seen sitting quietly on his veranda, capturing the meditative side of Cohen.
Though the exhibit, which runs from Nov. 9, 2017, to April 9, 2018, was meant to acknowledge Montreal’s 375th birthday by celebrating one of its brightest stars, it has now assumed a more sombre tone. Notwithstanding, visitors will be left with a feeling of optimism and a reinvigorated appreciation for the man’s work — work that continues to inspire after he’s gone.
Says Zeppetelli: “Victor [Shiffman, co-curator] and I fantasized forever about taking Leonard, once the show was completed, and to show him how relevant and how powerful his impact was for so many people across so many generations and disciplines. Sadly, we won’t have that opportunity.”