I’m Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen) 2017 is arguably the most ambitious multi-channel video portrait by acclaimed South African artist Candice Breitz. It was originally commissioned by Musée d’art contemporain in Montréal, Leonard Cohen’s hometown for an exhibition celebrating his life and work.
Leonard Cohen who was known as a poet as much as a musician died at age 82 on 11 November 2016. He is known as the writer of quintessential ballads, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Suzanne’ and ‘Bird on a Wire’, with a career spanning from the 1960s until literally his last moment. Upon his death, the city of Montreal reclaimed him as something of a civic saint.
Breitz’s spectacular and highly personal video portrait brings together a community of ardent Leonard Cohen fans from his hometown, each of whom has cherished Cohen’s music for over half a century, to pay posthumous tribute to the late legend.
These 18 men came together to perform and interpret Cohen’s magnificent comeback album, ‘I’m Your Man’ (1988), in a professional recording studio in old Montreal. Along with them, the album’s backing vocals have been sumptuously re-interpreted by the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir, an all-male choir representing the Westmount congregation that Cohen belonged to all his life.
Breitz, who has made several previous works on the nature of fan culture, describes this one as producing joy and sweet sadness.
At its first exhibition, the New York Times reviewer wrote: 'As the individually recorded voices merge and the men variously dance, sway or tear up, the reflection on aging masculinity and super fandom is both comical and moving.'
'Candice Breitz’s installation I’m Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen) gathers video portraits of 19 men over the age of 65 singing and humming Cohen’s songs. Each is life-size and high resolution, and the effect of walking through the room is as if the men were present. It’s a breathtaking meditation on fandom, aging and impermanence.'
The work expands Breitz’s ongoing anthropology of the fan. 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 a cappella voices of a devout amateur collective.
Earlier works in this series have included Legend (A Portrait of Bob Marley), shot in Jamaica in 2005; King (A Portrait of Michael Jackson) and Queen (A Portrait of Madonna), shot respectively in Berlin and Milan during 2005; and Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon), shot in Newcastle in 2006.
The presentation of I’m Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen) will be followed by presentations of two other key works by internationally acclaimed video artists recently acquired by Auckland Art Gallery: Angelica Mesiti’s Mother Tongue, 19 December 2020 – 7 February 2021 and Julian Rosefeldt’s, My Home is a Dark and Cloud-Hung Land, 20 February – 11 April 2021.