Montreal Art Review / Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything

Last time I was in Montreal three weeks ago, I saw posters on the subway for an upcoming Leonard Cohen exhibit at the MAC. Designed beautifully as most museum and gallery ads in Montreal are, the start yellow posters announced something contemporary and exciting.


Arriving at the MAC on December 31st, we are greeted by the usual holiday crowds, and surprised by how much the ticketing and coat check staff at the museum seem disorganized.

Still, we make it up the stairs to the second floor and entered the exhibit, essentially composed of artist commissions paying tribute to the legendary Canadian songwriter.


As we walk through and watch archival video installations, animated re-imaginings of iconic readings, documentary journeys taken alongside the man, and other similar audio-visual exhibits, we learn about Cohen.

A few rooms in, however, monotony sets in and we begin to ask ourselves what the thread of the exhibit is, why we can't quite feel its flow. While the MAC does a commendable job at inviting artists to share their work about Cohen, the curation fails to bring it all together. We are led to understand, but not to feel. There is an attempt to drum up emotion in a beautifully laid out room where each of a piano's keys plays a Cohen, but when we participate, it falls a bit flat and the intended improvised poetry ends up cacophony instead.


There are things we wish would be there that aren't. First, we'd like to hear more of his memorable, hypnotizing voice, speaking or singing. This is, after all, an exhibit about a singer-songwriter. Let us listen, not to things talking about him, but to him talking about things. 

The second thing sorely missing is physicality. While Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything covers a lot of ground in terms of themes and periods, it suffers greatly from a lack of objects. There is one typewriter and a few sheets, but we don't get to see the scribbled drafts, the notebooks, the instruments, the concert posters or the records. 

There are some high points, like the holographic Leonard Cohen on a bench outside the window of this home office, but overall, after about 30-40 minutes (most of it watching videos sitting down or leaning on walls), we are ready to call it quits.


We come out of the exhibit defeated, feeling like we'd seen a few disconnected - if sometimes noteworthy - efforts to pay tribute to a creator from the 'outside'. Instead, we'd wanted in; we'd wanted to see his process after the fact, to go on a journey with him. But instead, Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything is expository and ultimately disappoints.

And then, when decide to go check out some Borduas and Riopelle pieces on the way out, to cheer ourselves up, we realize that the exhibit is the only art on display at the museum, the permanent collection tucked away for a while. It adds to our disappointment and we leave to brave the cold on this last day of the year, a few Cohen songs on our minds, but not quite enough to keep our hearts warm.


Still, I feel I must leave you with the beauty of the man's words...

There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.
— Leonard Cohen