When it comes to jazz, Leonard Cohen is our man. Known primarily as a singer-songwriter in the folk vein, Cohen’s history with jazz extends back to his roots. Cohen became acquainted with New York City’s Beat Generation as a Columbia University post-graduate in the late-1950’s. In 1957, he attended an event at the Village Vanguard during which Jack Kerouac read to improvised piano music, an encounter that encouraged Cohen to do more performance work that married poetry and jazz.
The origins of Cohen’s career as a recording artist reveal jazz influence as well. For example, his first album, the age-defining Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), found him actively collaborating with jazz bassist Willie Ruff. His final album, You Want it Darker, released just before his death in November 2016, reflects a longtime fascination with the blues.
Fans of Cohen — whether from inside or outside the jazz fold — will want to head to the Jewish Museum in New York City to explore their newest exhibit, Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything, a contemporary art exhibition devoted to the “imagination and legacy of the legendary singer/songwriter, man of letters, and global icon from Montreal, Canada.” The exhibit opened April 12 and will continue through September 8, 2019.
The exhibit includes commissioned works by international artists who have been inspired by Cohen’s life and work, including Kara Blake, Candice Breitz, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Christophe Chassol, Daily tous les jours, Tacita Dean, Kota Ezawa, George Fok, Ari Folman, Fon Rafman and Taryn Simon. It also includes a multimedia gallery where visitors can hear covers of Cohen’s songs by musicians such as Feist, Moby and Sufjan Stevens. Hallelujah, indeed. If a trip to New York is in your future, here are five reasons you need to stop by and see Leonard.
Experience the ‘Depression Chamber’
One of the most memorable experiences of the exhibit is Ari Folman’s Depression Chamber, an interactive computer-animated video installation that puts a unique, Cohen-esque spin on the sensory-deprivation chamber. One at a time, visitors enter into a darkened room where Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” is played over speakers while the song’s lyrics are projected onto the room’s walls, slowly morphing into letters and icons that symbolize Cohen’s multifaceted thematic universe. It’s a real-world manifestation of the deeply immersive experience Cohen provided through his music.
Listen to Leonard Like Never Before
There are plenty of opportunities to listen to the music of Leonard Cohen at the Jewish Museum’s Crack in Everything exhibit, most of it is sung by the Sage of Montreal himself. But in the Listening to Leonard room, visitors can hear 18 recorded covers of Cohen songs produced and performed by international artists and ensembles, including Feist; Half Moon Run; Aurora; Douglas Dare; Melanie De Biasio; Brad Barr; Leif Vollebekk; Dear Criminals; Ariane Moffatt; Moby; Julia Holter; Socalled; Chilly Gonzales and Jarvis Cocker; The National with Sufjan Stevens, Ragnar Kjartansoon and Richard Reed Parry; Basia Bulat; Little Scream; Lil Andy and Joe Grass; and Lou Doillon. It’s Cohen like you’ve never heard him before.
Cultural Programming with a Focus on Cohen
There’s more to Leonard Cohen than just his music, and there’s more to A Crack in Everything than just the exhibit. The Jewish Museum will present a series of programs featuring the explorations of the impact of Cohen’s music, poetry and art. On May 5, students and alumni from Columbia University’s Visual Arts MFA program will present In Response: Leonard Cohen, in which the students will prepare video, sound and performance-based works in response to A Crack in Everything. On May 23, renowned composer Meridith Monk will perform an intimate concert. On June 13, the museum will host a conversation with Cohen biographers Sylvie Simmons, Alan Light and Chantal Ringuet, as well as music producer John Lissauer. On June 20, prominent cantors from synagogues across New York and Montreal will convene to perform the music of Cohen. And on June 23, the exhibit will open itself to participants interested in creating self-portraits inspired by Cohen’s own artwork.
Nosh Like Leonard at Russ & Daughters
Russ & Daughters is a New York institution, a touchstone in the lives of generations of New Yorkers and “the torchbearer of Jewish food in America.” Specializing in “appetizing” foods —the not-quite breakfast, not-quite lunch food of a traditional bagel spread — Russ & Daughters recently opened a new location on Jewish Museum grounds, which means that those attending the Leonard Cohen exhibit can make their way to the Russ & Daughters restaurant in between viewings. Lines several blocks long have been known to form around Russ & Daughters’ Lower East Side location. But here, you can sit down to your bagel and schmear before “Bird on a Wire” has a chance to leave your head.
Give the Gift of Cohen
The Jewish Museum Shop contains a large selection of Jewish ceremonial objects and products representative of contemporary and traditional Jewish art and culture. For the Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything exhibit, the shop will offer an array of products related to Cohen, from apparel to biographies to vinyl albums and CDs. A Leonard Cohen tote bag? They have it. A “Dance Me to the End of Love” T-shirt? It’s yours. And that’s in addition to all of the jewelry, books, toys and inspired objects created by artists exclusively for the shop. All proceeds from sales of merchandise online or in the shop are used to support the mission and programming of the Jewish Museum.
Admission is $18 for adults, $12 for seniors and $8 for students, free for visitors 18 and under and Jewish Museum members. Free on Saturdays and select Jewish holidays. For more information, visit thejewishmuseum.org