Massive Leonard Cohen celebration a deeply intimate exhibit

Toronto’s AGO presents sprawling yet intimate tribute to Canadian icon

Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows
Where: Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Toronto
When: Now for members, opens Tues., Dec. 13 for general admission until Mon., April 10
Why you should go: A massive exhibit that feels deeply intimate and personal as Leonard Cohen’s family shares never-before-seen items from his life for an exhibit that features notebooks, photos, home movies, watercolours and more.

The AGO’s sprawling new celebration and exploration of the life of iconic Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows is as visceral, intimate — and sexy — as the artist himself.

With the help of Cohen’s family and archive administrators, the AGO has assembled a massive collection of intimate artifacts, videos, photos, artwork, notebooks and more, ranging from his childhood to his final days.

What could be more personal than a writer’s notebook crammed with carefully handwritten words: some ideas never fully developed, others forming the lyrics to what would become some of Cohen’s most popular songs?

The exhibit is packed with notebooks and loose pages of Cohen’s handwritten words from different stages in his life.

A child of privilege, perhaps it should be no surprise that even as a boy, Cohen thought his words and the pages that contained them were worth saving. And thank goodness he did because they form just part of the show’s intimate portrait of a man who had no problem sharing the intimate details of his life while always remaining an unsolved puzzle.

It would be easy to spend an afternoon just consuming the many video offerings in the exhibit, including childhood home movies of the poet as a sharply dressed young boy, which offers clear insights into where his taste for sartorial suits developed. Spacious video-viewing rooms also feature documentary footage from a 1972 tour film as well as rich offerings of other performances and documentaries.

Cohen, his friends, followers and hangers-on were all prolific shutterbugs, and the exhibit is filled with satisfying and personal pics of the poet and his pals. Needless to say, the majority of images are black and white including a handful of primitive and pleasing Polaroids.

Some might be surprised to learn Cohen was also a visual artist, and many of his watercolours and notebook sketches are featured here.

There are some trademark hats, stylish stage footwear and his 2017 Grammy all on display in an exhibit that goes deeper than just scratching a super-fan’s itch while at the same time delivering satisfying memorabilia.

The exhibit is both rich in detail and information — Cohen is endlessly revealed, yet the exhibition confirms that he remains an enigma.

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