The AGO reveals Leonard Cohen’s full artistry when the new exhibition Everybody Knows opens Dec. 7



As a poet and novelist, singer, songwriter, painter and photographer, Leonard Cohen was an artistic force. His art lives on, and this December, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) invites visitors of all ages to see Cohen as the multidimensional artist he was, on and off the stage – through photographs, artwork, notebooks, videos, his poems and prose. Curated by Julian Cox, Associate 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 on December 7, 2022 in the AGO.


Leonard Cohen was a lifelong seeker exploring the depths of the human heart – but it was his songs of beauty and melancholy that catapulted him to international fame and defined him 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 exhibition to showcase materials from the Leonard Cohen Family Trust, Everyone knows shows – through rarely seen and deeply insightful photographs, drawings, diaries, letters and self-portraits, artworks and objects – not only the breadth of his achievements but also his many influences and cultural impacts.


“What often obscures Cohen’s fame as a singer-songwriter is how multifaceted he was as an artist. It’s when you see his sketches, his photos, his watercolors, his texts for hallelujah, that a comprehensive portrait of the artist is revealed – a creator who is at once playful, ironic and deeply spiritual. This exhibition is a celebration of Cohen’s innate artistic power, and we look forward to visitors discovering—or rediscovering—the artist they think they know,” says Cox.


Accompanying the exhibition is a 168-page illustrated hardcover catalog published jointly by AGO and DelMonico Books • DAP, featuring contributions by Julian Cox, Jim Shedden, Joan Angel, Robert Kory, Alan Light and Michael Petit. Leonard Cohen: Everyone knows will be available from shopAGO this winter.


Exhibition-related programs, including an intimate performance by American singer and producer Sharon Robinson on Friday, December 9, 2022, a curator’s talk by Julian Cox on January 20, 2023, and additional talks and screenings are announced in the coming months.

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Leonard Cohen: Everyone knows is free for AGO members, annual pass holders, all indigenous peoples and visitors under the age of 25. AGO members will be able to see it for the first time on December 7, 2022. Annual pass holders will be able to see it on December 10, 2022, and single tickets for the same day will be available on December 13, 2022. For more information on how to book your tickets or become a member or annual pass holder, visit ago.ca.


ABOUT THE EXHIBITION:
Arranged chronologically and presented in the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion at AGO, Everyone knows is an exhibition steeped in Leonard Cohen’s voice. Featuring more than 200 artworks and objects, many of which are rarely seen, the exhibition is equal parts shadow and light, with striking blue wall accents reflecting his deep connections to Quebec, Israel and Greece. The exhibition features extensive loans from the Leonard Cohen Family Trust, supplemented by loans from the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, the Stephen Bulger Gallery and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.


Through home videos, early poems and photographs, the exhibition introduces us to the artist as a young man and his family, his neighbors and his synagogue. A McGill University graduate, he turned down the business to pursue poetry and left Montreal for the island of Hydra in Greece in 1960. He wrote Let’s compare mythologieshis first collection of poems there, photographs of him, letters and the house key, which he acquired in 1961, illustrate this Bohemian attitude to life.


Disappointed with 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 underscores this transition. In his notebooks from this period, visitors can read about his enduring fascination with weapons, with Scientology, with the Chinese I Ching. Three portraits of Cohen by the Toronto photographer come from the Stephen Bulger Gallery Arnaud Maggs, recorded during Cohen’s time in Nashville.


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Previously unreleased footage from Cohen’s 1972 European tour, compiled and edited by the Leonard Cohen Family Trust, reflects Cohen’s rise in popular music. Photographs and correspondence from the early 1970s show an artist adjusting to fatherhood. A photograph capturing his visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 1973 is embedded alongside correspondence between him and his sister relating to the Yom Kippur War.


A selection of Cohen’s photographs and drawings from the 1980s are accompanied by drafts of some of his iconic songs from the period, including Everyone knows and Hallelujah. Watercolors, often accompanied by witty text, were a constant activity, and two slide shows present details from important notebooks he worked on during that decade.


A true superstar in the 1990s, Cohen’s ever-expanding artistic circle is reflected in his correspondence, collaborations, and photographs with Philip Glass and KD Lang, Iggy Pop, Bono, Elton John, and others. Personal items – his iconic trilby hat, sleek shoes and keyboard – suggest an artist who is still with us. His retreat to a Buddhist monastery at the end of the 1990s is recorded in diary entries, photographs and drawings.


Prolific in the late 1990s and 2000s, the exhibition documents the artist’s final decade with a wall-sized installation of 25 LPs, a slideshow of digital self-portraits created by Cohen, and video footage from his last concert in Tel Aviv, where he gave a concert of final blessings in English and Hebrew.


The anchor of the exhibition is formed by two large-scale multi-channel works by Montreal-based artists Kara Blake and George Fok, commissioned by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. A five screen video compilation, Blake’s Offers (2017) invites visitors to hear Cohen reflect on his own writing and songs. An immersive introduction to Cohen as a performer, Fok’s acclaimed 56-minute multi-screen video installation runaway (2017), presents a collage of performances spanning more than four decades.


ABOUT LEONARD COHEN
Leonard Cohen (1934–2016) was a Canadian poet, singer-songwriter, and novelist. Read by generations of readers, his music, lyrics and books are admired worldwide. Born and raised in Montreal, Cohen’s artistic career began in 1956 with the publication of his first volume of poetry, Let’s compare mythologies. During his long and prolific career he published numerous volumes of poetry and two novels, The favorite game and Beautiful losersand 1993, Foreign Music: Selected Poems and Songs. He has recorded more than 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.

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@AGOToronto | #SeeAGO


Leonard Cohen: Everyone knows is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, with the extraordinary support of the Leonard Cohen Family Trust and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.


signature partner
RBC


Supporting Sponsors
Shiseido (Canada) Inc.
Virgo Plus


lead support
The Dorothy Strelsin Foundation
Anonymous


Generous support
That Azrieli Foundation
The Bloomberg and Sen
Greg & Susan Guichon
Lantern Family Foundation
Janice Lewis & Mitchell Cohen


media partners
blogTO


government partner
Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund


Contemporary programming at the AGO with the generous support of Canada’s Council of the Arts.


ABOUT THE AGO
The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto is one of the largest art museums in North America, attracting approximately one million visitors annually. The AGO collection of more than 120,000 artworks ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to significant works by Indigenous and Canadian artists and European masterpieces. AGO presents a wide range of exhibitions and programs, including solo shows 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 everyone under 25 and a $35 annual pass. Visit AGO.ca to learn more.


The AGO is funded in part by the Ontario Department of Tourism, Culture and Sports. Additional operational support comes 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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