The insider's guide to MAC's Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything

The Leonard Cohen exhibition is now open at Montreal's Musée d'art contemporain. To help visitors get the most out of the exhibition's interactive works and esoteric offerings, here's a quick guide.

Dark room of microphones, semi-nude dancer and other esoteric offerings, explained

Forty artists from 10 countries are celebrating the legacy of Leonard Cohen with works that springboard off elements of his life and work. 2:06

The Leonard Cohen exhibition is now open at Montreal's Musée d'art contemporain (MAC) and in it, viewers will find artists' various positions on Cohen — from the highly accessible to the deeply esoteric. 

It's not uncommon to find museum walls covered in giant writing outlining the meaning or message of a collection, but such guideposts are not featured in this moody maze.

The only explanations that exist are offered up in small bits of text lit by a soft glow.

Here are some notes to help guide visitors through the exhibition's interactive works — and help you understand the ones which may seem a bit perplexing.

A sudden performance

Visitors walking through the dimly lit exhibition may stumble onto a small room with a topless woman on the floor, bathed in light.

Clara Furey will stage 90 performances of When Even The at the MAC. (CBC)

This is Montreal artist Clara Furey. Her parents knew Cohen, and she remembers him coming to visit when she was a child.

Her choreographed work When Even The is inspired by a Cohen poem and "explores the sensuality of the dead and the living," it says on the Facebook page outlining her performance schedule.

The performance lasts 90 minutes and there are benches for visitors to sit and contemplate.

Don't be shy to take a seat.

A giant wooden box

Daily tous les jours's interactive work is on the side of the exhibition with the listening room of Cohen covers. (CBC)

The team at the MAC is very excited about this interactive experience called I heard there was a secret chord by interaction design studio Daily tous les jours.

The work is on the opposite side of the museum from most of the exhibition.

A ramp leads into the wooden structure, and once inside, visitors see microphones dangling down to their shins.

There's also a digital counter on the ceiling and the sound of Hallelujah being hummed.

What's happening? 

The counter in the ceiling is taking data from online streaming services, like Spotify, and counting up the streams playing Cohen's original Hallelujah at that precise moment.

The number displayed is usually between 400 and 800.

Feel free to sit down and relax inside the interactive work called I heard there was a secret chord. (Radio-Canada)

The hums are several voices from among more than 100 Montreal singers who were recorded humming Hallelujah. A handful of audio files run at any given moment and the mix of voices is always different.

The dangling microphones are an invitation for visitors to hum along, and if they do, the floor will vibrate beneath them to the sound of their voices.

Melissa Mongiat from Daily tous les jours said the studio was "trying to tap into the invisible vibration of all the people listening to the song at the same time."

There are benches inside the small structure, and the artists have said that sitting down and relaxing into the experience is as encouraged as participating.

Lineup to a white door

Israeli artist Ari Folman's work The Depression Chamber is the first room on the right before going into the exhibition.

It may be easy to miss the small room which precedes the entrance to the exposition, but it's worth keeping an eye out for. 

MAC curator and director John Zeppetelli and a host of artists have gushed about Folman's participation: he directed the highly acclaimed film Waltz with Bashir.

Folman admitted he was used to being king on set but at the MAC, "I have 25 kings here with me in the castle." 

Just to the right of where Ari Folman is standing, his work, The Depression Chamber, invites visitors to a solo experience in a closed-off room. (CBC)

Only one person can be in the sealed-off room at a time. Once inside, the viewer lays on a daybed and listens to the sound of Famous Blue Raincoat

"Then a miracle happens," Folman said. "You have to come here and experience it to find out what it is. I'm not going to tell you."

Out of respect for his wishes, we won't spoil the surprise.

The room with a few pitch problems

Once a visitor gets to this choir, they've made it to the biggest gallery in the exhibition.

The choir from Congregation Shaar Hashomayim also worked on Cohen's last album, You Want it Darker. (CBC)

The professional singers from Cohen's family synagogue, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, look like gatekeepers to 18 Cohen superfans singing the album I'm Your Man in the giant gallery behind them.

The choir provides backup vocals and was filmed singing the album from beginning to end.

Cantor Gideon Zelermyer said it was a very special experience for the singers.

"We like to have those emotional journeys and to engage with people in different ways," he said. 

In the gallery behind the choir, individual fans were filmed delivering their own take on I'm Your Man.

Each of the people singing filled out forms and wrote essays explaining why they were Cohen's biggest fan and deserved to be included in the piece.

18 Montreal-based fans sing the Cohen comeback album I'm Your Man. They each had to prove their lifelong commitment to Cohen to be included in the work. (CBC)

The fans are all men over the age of 65: Each had to prove they'd been following Cohen's career for at least half a century.

"They're together in the chorus, full of pitch problems, but they're unified," Zeppetelli said.

Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything runs until April 9, 2018.

About the Author

Elysha Enos


Elysha Enos is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

With files from Nantali Indongo