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Press Release

The Contemporary Jewish Museum Presents Experience Leonard Cohen

A Series of Four Solo Exhibitions Inspired by the Life and Work of Musician and Writer Leonard Cohen

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 (San Francisco, CA) — The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) will present four solo exhibitions of contemporary art inspired by the legacy of Leonard Cohen (1934–2016), the influential musician, man of letters, and global icon from Montreal, Canada. The exhibitions, installed throughout all of The Museum’s main galleries, will include a variety of artworks ranging from immersive and intimate to rarely-before-seen and personal reflections on the impact of Cohen’s work. Featuring contemporary artists George Fok, Judy Chicago, Candice Breitz, and Marshall Trammell, each exhibition offers its own unique understanding of Leonard Cohen and his expansive oeuvre. An opening celebration is planned for September 19, 2021.

“Leonard Cohen is an iconic figure whose work has had a lasting impact on artists and the general population alike,” said Senior Curator Heidi Rabben. “His songs and poetry both reflect the time he was living in and continue to be meaningful today. Comprising immersive video, sound, and visual artworks that range from homage to abstraction, these exhibitions truly offer something for everyone. We can’t wait to welcome visitors to The Museum to celebrate Cohen’s enduring legacy through the lens of these brilliant artists.”

Two major exhibitions by Candice Breitz and George Fok feature ambitious installations that were commissioned by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) for the large-scale touring exhibition Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything, curated by John Zeppetelli, Director and Chief Curator and Victor Shiffman, Guest Curator. “Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything has been received with so much emotion wherever it has been shown. The MAC is very pleased to work with The CJM, which will revive two iconic works from this magnificent exhibition that has touched such a wide audience. The process of creating an atypical tribute exhibition around such an inspiring subject, and Cohen’s passing while the show was being organized, made it a particularly meaningful experience,” said Zeppetelli.

The CJM developed the Judy Chicago and Marshall Trammell exhibitions over the course of the past year as a complement to the works from the original MAC exhibition. On August 5, The CJM will open the first two solo exhibitions, George Fok: Passing Through and Judy Chicago: Cohanim. On September 18, Candice Breitz: I’m Your Man (from the collection of the MAC) and Marshall Trammell in Residence will open to the public as well. The first two exhibitions will be on view through January 2, 2022, and the second two through February 13, 2022.

George Fok: Passing Through and Judy Chicago: Cohanim offer distinct personal responses to Cohen’s life and work. George Fok’s Passing Through, presented in The CJM’s Swig and Dinner Families Gallery, is an immersive video work that celebrates 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, footage of concerts, and emotions that have enchanted generations of fans around the world. This large-scale, composite portrait of the artist recalls and reconstructs various pivotal stages in Cohen’s life, following the artist from his early years in bohemian 1960s Montréal to his later life and career when he was recognized as a global cultural icon. Visitors will be able to experience the installation as a mash-up concert in this seamless, hour-long reflection on Cohen’s performance history.

Judy Chicago: Cohanim is an exhibition by renowned Jewish feminist artist Judy Chicago. The work comprises a series of twelve intimate paintings on porcelain, each visualizing particular Cohen lyrics to which Chicago felt a connection. The delicate and painterly style in this series conveys a sense of heartfelt connection. The format of ceramics as a means to commemorate icons of the past also harkens back to the artist’s most celebrated masterpiece, The Dinner Party (1974-79). For decades, Chicago has led the contemporary artistic field with her groundbreaking feminist practice, and also has a dedicated history of work that responds to Jewish themes, most notably The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light (1985-93), a collaboration with her husband, photographer Donald Woodman. She describes her artistic process and relationship to Cohen’s music throughout her career in an introductory video that will be presented in the space with the series. As Chicago says of the works in Cohanim, “Leonard Cohen’s lyrics often seemed to perfectly express my feelings at various points in my life… I am so deeply moved by the rhythms that inform his music, perhaps because of our shared lineage. He is the grandson of a Talmudic scholar and I am descended from twenty-three generations of rabbis.”

Candice Breitz: I’m Your Man opens on September 18, marking the first time that a single work of art will occupy the entirety of The Museum’s 6,200-square-foot Koshland Gallery. I’m Your Man is a moving nineteen-channel video installation that portrays Cohen in his absence, focusing instead on a community of his fans, each of whom has cherished the legend’s music for over half a century. More than simply an appreciation of Cohen, the work is a celebration of the sexagenarian and septuagenarian men featured. Each delivers a loving and idiosyncratic track-by-track rendition of Cohen’s eponymous comeback album, I’m Your Man (1988). Breitz’s synchronisation of the solo recordings forges the eighteen amateur voices into a rough-hewn a cappella choir, which is set against sumptuous backing vocals that have been freshly interpreted by a younger group of men belonging to the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir (the Montreal-based congregation that Cohen belonged to all his life). The installation is a musical eulogy that is both joyous and mournful; it marks the loss of Cohen while anticipating the loss of the generation to which he belonged. Breitz has described the work as a love letter to her Jewish father, who is of the same age as the men featured. Via the piece, she offers an incisive and moving study of late masculinity, one that insists on the possibility of a manhood that is free of emotional restraint and unapologetically vulnerable. Though it is the only work in her oeuvre that deliberately features men only, the artist’s feminist sensibility prevails..

Marshall Trammell in Residence also opens September 18, the culminating moment when all four exhibitions will be on view simultaneously. Trammell’s exhibition is a progressive, participatory  residency that offers abstract reflections inspired by Leonard Cohen’s life, spirituality, and musical practice in real time. An Oakland-based experimental archivist, percussionist, conductor, and composer, Trammell has built a practice that centers around collaboration. Throughout the run of the dynamic residency, Trammell will periodically inhabit The CJM’s Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt Yud Gallery in moments that include improvisation, performance, and collaborative re-contextualization of diverse facets of Cohen’s legacy. Throughout this residency at The CJM, Trammell will invite other voices to participate in workshops and to offer reflections which he and other interlocutors will translate into audio-visual engagements in the gallery. This is the first time The CJM’s Yud Gallery will be utilized as a residency space.

A world-renowned novelist, poet, and singer/songwriter who inspired generations of writers, musicians, and artists, Leonard Cohen was an extraordinary narrator of the imperfection of the human condition. His thinking, writing, and music are a thing of beauty, depth, and despair. For decades, he tenaciously supplied the world with melancholy and urgent observations on the state of the human heart, in songs such as “Suzanne,” “Bird on a Wire,” and “Hallelujah.” With equal parts gravitas and grace, Cohen teased out a startlingly inventive and singular language, depicting both an exalted spirituality and an earthly sexuality. Like Cohen’s native Montreal, San Francisco has a rich literary history steeped in the poetry and politics of the Beatniks. San Francisco, which hosts an annual festival to celebrate Cohen’s life and work, and The CJM, in particular, are a natural place to celebrate the legacy and influence of Cohen, whose Jewish roots and culture infused much of his work.

Experience Leonard Cohen draws on Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything, organized by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) and curated by John Zeppetelli, Director and Chief Curator at the MAC, and Victor Shiffman, Guest Curator. Experience Leonard Cohen is organized at The CJM by Heidi Rabben, Senior Curator, and Justin Limoges, Director of Exhibitions.

The four exhibitions comprising Experience Leonard Cohen are made possible by the generous support of entrepreneur and philanthropist Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist. “Leonard Cohen is my rabbi, and his music is my prayer book,” said Newmark. “He has inspired many people of many religions to know God, and to work together to repair the world—tikkun olam. These exhibitions honor Leonard, and remind us all of our connection to the divine, which is why I am proud to support the shows."

The four exhibitions at The CJM are accompanied by the Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything catalog published by the MAC that details the original exhibition by tracing the two years of preparation preceding its opening at the MAC in 2017, and includes texts by artists, curators, Cohen’s biographer Sylvie Simmons, and author Chantal Ringuet.


Lead Sponsorship for Experience Leonard Cohen is generously provided by Craig Newmark Philanthropies.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) thanks Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt, The Bernard Osher Foundation, Suzanne and Elliott Felson, the John Pritzker Family Fund, the Irving and Eleanor Jaffe Foundation, Taube Philanthropies, Kendra and Tom Kasten, and Jessica Silverman for generously supporting the exhibition. 

Robert Kory provided invaluable assistance in the successful organization of Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything.

Media Sponsorship is provided by the San Francisco Chronicle.

About The Contemporary Jewish Museum

For over thirty years The CJM has engaged audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. In 2008 The Museum opened a new building designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, providing a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in educational activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase L’Chaim (“to life”), the building is a physical embodiment of The CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.

Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum is generously provided by Craig Newmark Philanthropies; Bank of America; The Covenant Foundation; Suzanne and Elliott Felson; Grants for the Arts; Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; Jim Joseph Foundation; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; Joyce B. Linker; Alexandra O. Moses; The Bernard Osher Foundation; John Pritzker Family Fund; Dorothy R. Saxe; Seiger Family Foundation; Ruth S. Stein; and Roselyne C. Swig.

Major support for The CJM Helen Diller Institute is generously provided by The Helen Diller Family Foundation.

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