Leonard Cohen’s words gave voice to the human condition, in all of its grace and imperfection — and to this day, they continue to inspire generations of artists, musicians, and writers. This inspiration is at the heart of Experience Leonard Cohen: a series of four solo exhibitions that present immersive and intimate artworks by contemporary artists George Fok, Judy Chicago, Candice Breitz, and Marshall Trammell, all inspired by the life and work of Leonard Cohen (1934–2016), the influential musician, man of letters, and global icon from Montréal, Canada.
Through his poetry, novels, songs, and lyrics, Leonard Cohen expressed the complexities and desires of body and soul — a compelling metaphor for the twenty-first century Jewish experience. An observant Jew, Cohen also deeply explored Buddhism and various other world views. His commitment to questions of spirituality and existence shines through in songs such as “Suzanne,” “Bird on a Wire,” and “Hallelujah,” which masterfully combine mystery and universality with sacred and profane, and are now imprinted on our collective memory. These four exhibitions invite you to find new connections to the poetry, music, and lyrics of the late legend through artworks inspired by his enduring legacy.
George Fok, Passing Through, 2017. Multi-channel video installation, black and white and color, sound, 56 min 15 s, looped, dimensions variable. Exhibition view of Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything presented at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, 2017–2018. Courtesy the artist. Photo: George Fok
George Fok’s “Passing Through” is an immersive video work celebrating Leonard Cohen’s singular voice, influential music, charismatic persona, and inimitable stage presence. Drawing on a vast archive of audiovisual material, Fok pays tribute to Cohen’s monumental five-decade career through a collage of collective memories, concert footage, and emotions that have enchanted generations of fans around the world. Presented as a seamless, hour-long video presentation, The work invites visitors to explore Cohen’s life and legacy as a mash-up concert, a composite portrait of the artist, and an evocative reflection on his relationship with God, his fans, and himself.
Judy Chicago, Bird on a Wire 2, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco. Photo: Donald Woodman
“Cohanim”, a solo exhibition by inimitable artist Judy Chicago, features twelve vibrant paintings on porcelain that explore and reflect on the lyrics of Leonard Cohen. Chicago, who has led the contemporary art field in feminist practice for decades, created this body of work as a personal tribute to these lyrics and what they have meant to her throughout her life. In their colorful, spare, and painterly interpretations of Cohen’s songs, these works express a sense of intimacy and heartfelt spiritual connection.
Candice Breitz, I’m Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen), 2017. Shot at the Phi Centre, Montréal, Canada, May–June 2017. Nineteen-channel installation: nineteen hard drives, duration: 40 minutes 43 seconds. Collection of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Exhibition view of Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything presented at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, 2017–2018. Photo: Guy L’Heureux
“I’m Your Man” (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen) is a nineteen-channel video installation by Candice Breitz. The work brings together a community of ardent Leonard Cohen fans—each of whom has cherished Cohen’s music for over half a century—to pay posthumous tribute to Cohen in a poignant re-performance of the late legend’s comeback album, “I’m Your Man” (1988).
Marshall Trammell in Residence offers reflections on Leonard Cohen’s life, spirituality, and musical practice in real time. An Oakland-based experimental archivist, percussionist, conductor, and composer who has built a practice centered on collaboration, Trammell will periodically inhabit The Museum’s Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt Yud gallery in a dynamic residency that may include improvisation, performance, and collaborative re-contextualization of diverse facets of Cohen’s legacy. Throughout the residency, Trammell will invite other voices to participate in audio-visual engagements that explore facets of Cohen’s life and work, while engaging in the broader social and cultural urgencies of our present moment.
Experience Leonard Cohen
Date: August 5th, 2021 – February 13th, 2022
Open: 11:00 – 17:00 (Closed on Monday to Wednesday)
Place: The Contemporary Jewish Museum
Address: 736 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Tel: +1 415 655 7800
Text: Saya Regalado
Photos: Courtesy of The Contemporary Jewish Museum © the artists