Poet and novelist, singer, songwriter, painter and photographer, Leonard Cohen was an artistic force. His artistry lives on, and in December the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) invites visitors of all ages to see Cohen as the multidimensional artist he was, on and off stage – through photographs, works of art, notebooks, videos, his poetry and prose. Curated by Julian Cox, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the AGO, and organized with the exceptional support of the Leonard Cohen Family Trust and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Everyone knows opens at the AGO on December 7, 2022.
Leonard Cohen was a researcher who throughout his life plumbed the depths of the human heart – but it was his songs of beauty and melancholy that propelled him to international stardom and came to define him in as an artist. Born in Montreal, he remains the only Canadian to have received both a Governor General’s Award for Poetry and an induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
The first museum exhibit to feature materials from the Leonard Cohen Family Trust, Everyone knows demonstrates – through photographs, drawings, diaries, letters and self-portraits, rarely seen and deeply revealing artworks and objects – not only the breadth of his achievements, but his many influences and cultural impact .
“What Cohen’s fame as a singer and songwriter tends to obscure is how multifaceted he was as an artist. It’s when you see his sketches, his photographs, his watercolors, his words for Alleluia, that a full portrait of the artist is revealed – a playful, ironic and deeply spiritual creator. This exhibit is a celebration of Cohen’s innate artistic strength, and we’re thrilled for visitors to discover or rediscover the artist they think they know,” says Cox.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a 168-page hardcover illustrated catalogue, co-published by the AGO and DelMonico Books • DAP, with contributions from Julian Cox, Jim Shedden, Joan Angel, Robert Kory, Alan Light and Michael Petit. Leonard Cohen: Everyone knows will be available in shopAGO this winter.
Programming related to the exhibition, including an intimate performance by American singer and producer Sharon Robinson on Friday December 9, 2022, a talk by curator Julian Cox on January 20, 2023, as well as additional talks and screenings, will be announced in the coming month.
Leonard Cohen: Everyone knows is free for AGO members, annual pass holders, all Indigenous peoples and visitors aged 25 and under. AGO members will see it for the first time from December 7, 2022. Annual pass holders will be able to see it on December 10, 2022 and single tickets paid for on the same day will be available on December 13, 2022. For more for details on how to book your tickets or to become a member or annual pass holder, visit there is.ca.
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION:
Organized chronologically and presented in the Sam & Ayala Zacks pavilion at the AGO, Everyone knows is an exhibition imbued with the voice of Leonard Cohen. Featuring over 200 works of art and objects, many of which are rarely seen, the exhibition is equal parts light and shadow, with striking blue wall accents, reflecting its deep ties to Quebec, Israel and Greece. . The exhibition features numerous loans from the Leonard Cohen Family Trust, supplemented by loans from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, the Stephen Bulger Gallery and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.
Through family films, old poems and photographs, the exhibition introduces us to the artist as a young man, his family, his neighbors and his synagogue. A graduate of McGill University, he rejected business to devote himself to poetry, leaving Montreal in 1960 for the island of Hydra, Greece. He wrote Let’s compare the mythologieshis first collection of poetry there, and photographs of him, letters, and the key to the house he bought in 1961, illustrate this bohemian way of life.
Disappointed in his literary career and encouraged by singer-songwriter Judy Collins, Cohen left Greece for America in the mid-1960s and released his first solo album in 1967. A selection of Polaroid photos, taken by Cohen, highlights this transition. In his notebooks from that time, visitors can read his lifelong fascination with firearms, with Scientology, with the Chinese I-Ching. From the Stephen Bulger Gallery, three portraits of Cohen by the Toronto photographer Arnaud Maggs, taken during Cohen’s time in Nashville.
Never-before-seen footage from Cohen’s 1972 European tour, compiled and edited by the Leonard Cohen Family Trust, reflects Cohen’s rise in popular music. Photos and correspondence from the early 1970s shed light on an artist adjusting to fatherhood. A photo capturing his 1973 visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, is nestled next to correspondence between him and his sister, referencing the Yom Kippur War.
A selection of Cohen’s photographs and drawings from the 1980s are accompanied by drafts of some of his signature songs from the era, including Everyone knows and Alleluia. The watercolours, often accompanied by witty text, were an ongoing activity, and two slideshows feature details from key notebooks he worked on during this decade.
A true superstar of the 1990s, Cohen’s ever-widening artistic circle is reflected in his correspondence, collaboration and photography with Philip Glass and KD Lang, Iggy Pop, Bono, Elton John and others. Personal effects—his signature trilby hat, dress shoes, and keyboard—suggest an artist still among us. His retreat to a Buddhist monastery in the late 1990s is illustrated in diary entries, photographs and drawings.
Intensely prolific throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, the exhibition documents the artist’s last decade with a wall installation of 25 LPs, a slideshow of digital self-portraits created by Cohen and video footage of his last concert in Tel Aviv, where he delivered a final blessing in English and Hebrew.
The exhibition is anchored by two large-scale, multi-channel works by Montreal artists Kara Blake and George Fok, commissioned by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. A Five-Screen Video Compilation, Blake’s Offerings (2017) invites visitors to hear Cohen reflect on his own writing and songwriting. An immersive introduction to Cohen as a performer, Fok’s acclaimed 56-minute multi-screen video installation By the way (2017), presents a collage of performances from over four decades.
ABOUT LEONARD COHEN
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) was a Canadian poet, singer-songwriter and novelist. His music, lyrics and books, which have been read by generations of readers, are admired around the world. Born and educated in Montreal, Cohen’s artistic career began in 1956 with the publication of his first book of poetry, Let’s compare the mythologies. During his long and successful career, he published numerous collections of poetry and two novels, favorite game and handsome losersand in 1993, Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs. He has recorded over a dozen music albums and numerous tribute albums, in many languages, have celebrated his songs. He died in Los Angeles in 2016 (the day before the US election) and was buried in Montreal a few days later.
@AGOToronto | #SeeAGO
Leonard Cohen: Everyone knows is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto with the exceptional support of the Leonard Cohen Family Trust and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.
Shiseido (Canada) Inc.
The Dorothy Strelsin Foundation
The Azrieli Foundation
The Bloomberg and Sen families
Greg & Susan Guichon
Latner Family Foundation
Janice Lewis and Mitchell Cohen
Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund
Contemporary programming at the AGO generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.
ABOUT THE AGO
Located in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario is one of the largest art museums in North America, attracting approximately one million visitors each year. The AGO collection of over 120,000 works of art ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to important works by Indigenous and Canadian artists and European masterpieces. The AGO presents large-scale exhibitions and programs, including solo exhibitions and acquisitions by diverse and underrepresented artists from around the world. In 2019, the AGO launched a bold new initiative to make the museum even more welcoming and accessible with the introduction of free admission for anyone 25 and under and a $35 annual pass . Visit AGO.ca to learn more.
The AGO is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operational support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO members, donors and private sector partners.
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