top of page

Exploring Spirituality at New York’s First Leonard Cohen Exhibit

Leonard Cohen carried a lot of titles throughout his career: singer, songwriter, poet. But as the first art exhibit dedicated exclusively to Cohen opens today at The Jewish Museum, one title — religious explorer — has come to the forefront. Maddy Foley has more.

FOLEY_1: As soon as the museum opened its doors this morning, a human traffic jam formed, drawn into a room dominated by three huge video screens and filled with bean bag chairs. It’s George Fok’s “Passing Through,” a 55 minute loop of Cohen’s biggest hits, one of 13 different pieces by artists responding to his work.

Ruth Beesch is The Jewish Museum’s programming director.


This is not an exhibition of memorialibila, it is a series of exhibitions by these really brilliant artists who have in their own way interpreted and are presenting Leonard’s practice. (0:13)

FOLEY_2:  The Leonard Cohen show is called A crack in everything. It debuted in Montreal this year. In another room of the exhibit is the installation Depression Chamber. Visitors take turns lying on their back, on a platform. Animated religious symbols float across the ceiling in time to Cohen’s song “Famous Blue Raincoat.”


FOLEY_3: Beesch says it makes sense that it would open in new york at one of the country’s oldest Jewish spaces.


Leonard is obviously a great cultural icon. Also, a Jewish Icon. It’s part of his identity, it’s baked into his DNA.

FOLEY_4: Julie Kaezmer is a religion reporter for the Washington Post. She says a particular spiritual sensibility runs through much of Cohen’s work


Leonard Cohen was deeply Jewish and it shows in his work in a way that is doesn’t for anybody else. But i think it’s a very common Jewish experience to seek and learn and to fit into the framework you have in your own soul.

FOLEY_5: Many of the show’s pieces encourage visitors to actively engage with Cohen’s voice. The Poetry Machine is an installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Program Director Ruth Beesch.


Visitors are invited to come up to a worlistser organ andpress a key and when they do, they hear Leonard, in his own voice, reciting poems from his amazing volume, Book of Longing.



If you press more than one key at a time, you start to hear Leonard’s voice in duplicates. And sometimes, if somebody really presses a lot of keys, you get this caucophany of his voice.

FOLEY_6 : Nearby is a dimly lit, wood-paneled room. A recording plays a chorus of voices, all humming one of Cohen’s most recognizable compositions. Hallelujah,


FOLEY_7: The song is being streamed live on the internet. The number of voices reflects the number of listeners worldwide.


FOLEY_8: Visitors hum along to this global community. And is this ability of Cohen music to inspire a communal experience, that visitor Charles Leider likes best about his creative icon.


I like the profound appreciation he had for human emotion.

FOLEY_9: A Crack in Everything will be at The Jewish Museum until September.

Maddy Foley, Uptown Radio.


bottom of page