Sep 18, 2021–Feb 13, 2022
This solo exhibition by artist Candice Breitz features the work I’m Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen), a nineteen-channel video installation presented across two spaces. The work brings together a community of eighteen ardent Leonard Cohen fans—each of whom has cherished Cohen’s music for over half a century—to pay posthumous tribute to the late legend.
In the antechamber that serves as the point of entry into the piece, a dapper choir of young men sporting brown suits and yarmulkes work their way melodiously through a series of oddly fragmented vocals. Their otherwise precise performance is dislocated by long stretches of silence. A second body of voices—deeper in texture and less trained than the first—permeates the antechamber during these silences, gradually drawing visitors into the larger room concealed behind the projection of the choir.
More than simply an appreciation of Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man is a celebration of the sexagenarian and septuagenarian men who we encounter in this second space, each meticulously captured on his own life-size monitor. Over the course of forty minutes, each of the men delivers a loving and idiosyncratic track-by-track rendition of Cohen’s eponymous comeback album, I’m Your Man (1988). Breitz’s synchronization of the solo recordings—which were filmed in a professional recording studio in Montreal—forges the eighteen amateur voices into a rough-hewn a cappella choir, held afloat acoustically by the chorus of younger men whose ethereal vocals seep in from the antechamber. The fragments performed in the antechamber become recognizable as the backing vocals from the same album, here sumptuously reinterpreted for the installation by the all-male Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir—the Westmount congregation that Cohen belonged to all his life. The same choir provided the backing vocals for Cohen’s last album, You Want it Darker, which was released in October 2016, nineteen days before Cohen passed away—it was the first time he had worked with male backing vocalists.
Although Cohen was only 53 at the time of the album's recording, I’m Your Man is melancholic and retrospective in mood (“The summer’s almost gone… And winter’s tuning up”). Suffused with an aging poet’s reflections on death and mortality, its lyrics offer the musings of a man coming to terms with his own fading (“My friends are gone, and my hair is grey… I ache in the places where I used to play”). Their content is rendered all the more poignant by Breitz’s treatment of the album, which tenderly contrasts the full-bodied presence of men in their prime with an older generation of men who are no less passionate or present, but certainly more fragile for having travelled the longer road. I’m Your Man marks the loss of Cohen, as it anticipates the loss of the generation to which he belonged; it is a musical eulogy that is both joyous and mournful. Breitz has described the work as a love letter to her Jewish father, who is of the same age as the men featured. Through this 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.
I’m Your Man expands Breitz’s ongoing anthropology of the fan. Earlier works in this series have included Legend (A Portrait of Bob Marley), shot in Jamaica in 2005; a pair of works titled King (A Portrait of Michael Jackson) and Queen (A Portrait of Madonna), both produced in 2005; and Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon), shot in Newcastle in 2006. Although these multi-channel “portraits” mimic the flow and duration of the original albums that they take as their templates, they specifically exclude the auratic voices and familiar musical arrangements of the original albums, such that the musical icon ultimately remains present only through the voices of a devout amateur collective.
Participants: Lew Auerbach, Sheldon Azimov, Thomas L. Bohan, Don Cummer, Jean-Pierre Ducharme, Shaun Fawcett (in memory of Ellen C. Fawcett), Marc Gian, Jerry Golland, Fergus Keyes, Richard Lahmy, Peter Lau, Victor Neufeld, Claude Ouellet, Philippe, Denis S. J. Shackel, Paul G. Shaw, Edward Lyon Singer, and Philip J. Taylor (d. 2018).
Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir: Roï Azoulay (Music Director), Cantor Gideon Y. Zelermyer (Soloist), and Conor O’Neil (Arranger). Choristers: David Buzaglo, Victor Chisholm, Gabriel Frank, Joshua Goldman, Isak Goldschneider, Conor O’Neil, David Packer, Lorne Shapiro and Jake Smith.
I’m Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen), dated 2017, was originally 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 and Victor Shiffman. It is presented at The CJM in the context of the exhibition series Experience Leonard Cohen, organized at The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) by Heidi Rabben, Senior Curator, and Justin Limoges, Director of Exhibitions.
This exhibition is included in your general admission ticket. Become a Member to receive free admission. All visitors are required to book their timed tickets online in advance to facilitate a contactless visit to The Museum.
Candice Breitz (b. 1972, Johannesburg, South Africa) is a Berlin-based artist whose moving image installations have been shown internationally. Throughout her career, she has explored the dynamics by means of which an individual becomes him or herself in relation to a larger community, be that the immediate community that one encounters in family, or the real and imagined communities that are shaped not only by questions of national belonging, race, gender and religion, but also by the increasingly undeniable influence of mainstream media such as television, cinema and other popular culture.
Breitz represented South Africa at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017, with an installation titled Love Story (2016). She has also participated in biennales in Johannesburg, São Paulo, Istanbul, Taipei, Gwangju, Tirana, Venice, New Orleans, Göteborg, Singapore, and Dakar. Her work has been featured at the Sundance Film Festival (New Frontier, 2009) and the Toronto International Film Festival (David Cronenberg: Transformation, 2013).
Works by Breitz have been acquired by museums including the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Tate Modern, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Jewish Museum in New York, the National Gallery of Canada, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Art Gallery of Ontario, Fonds national d’art contemporain (FNAC), Castello di Rivoli, Hamburger Bahnhof, M+ / Museum of Visual Culture, National Gallery of Victoria, Milwaukee Art Museum, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (MUDAM), Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC), Kunstmuseum Lichtenstein, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Queensland Art Gallery (QAGGOMA), Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (MAXXI).
Leonard Cohen’s words gave voice to the human condition, in all of its grace and imperfection—and to this day, they continue to inspire generations of artists, musicians, and writers. This inspiration is at the heart of Experience Leonard Cohen: a series of four solo exhibitions that present immersive and intimate artworks by contemporary artists George Fok, Judy Chicago, Candice Breitz, and Marshall Trammell, all inspired by the life and work of Leonard Cohen (1934–2016), the influential musician, man of letters, and global icon from Montréal, Canada.
Lead sponsorship of 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, Jessica Silverman, and Meyer Sound for generously supporting the exhibition.
Media Sponsorship is provided by the San Francisco Chronicle. In-kind support is provided by Where the Buffalo Roam.
The CJM thanks the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) for its support of the exhibition. Robert Kory provided invaluable assistance in the successful organization of Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything.