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Gil J. Wolman

Gil J. Wolman (1929–1995) was a French artist who explored the intersections and alterations of visual and textual languages through pioneering cut-up and collage techniques, experimental film, and sound poetry. Wolman’s career stands at the intersection of three major movements that are key to the development of postwar avant-garde and counter-culture in Europe: Lettrism, Sound Poetry, and the Situationist International.

Gil J. Wolman Papers

Gil J. Wolman Papers document Wolman’s first experiments with sound poetry in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and his involvement with Lettrist experimental cinema; the material provides rare insight into collaborations among the Lettrists as well as the early years of the Lettrist International. The Papers include correspondence, drafts of important tracts and theoretical pieces by Wolman, as well as hundreds of others printed by the Lettrists and Situationists; periodicals, including Internationale Lettriste; documentation of Wolman’s graffiti art and so-called Scotch art, as well as his later conceptual works focusing on the act of “separation;” books; material related to the Parisian art and gallery scene.

Gil J Wolman Papers Overview

Guide to the Gil J. Wolman Papers

Other Gil J. Wolman material

"Finis les pieds plats," 1952, International Lettrist tract against Charlie Chaplin.

Ion, 1952, periodical.

La nuit du cinéma, 1952, poster announcing the screening of five Lettrist films.

Potlatch, nos. 1-29, 1954-59.

La conferenze "Storia dell'Internazionale lettrista," 1956, poster for an event in Turin by the Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, which never happened.

"Manifestez en faveur de l'urbanisme unitaire," 1956, Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus manifesto.

"Toutes ces dames au Salon!," 1956, International Lettrist manifesto against an exhibition

Deuxième Internationale lettriste, 1964, second issue of four.

OU  33, sound recording disc, 1969.

L'autonomapek 1, 1972, recording of experimental sound work by different artists/poets.

Revue OU, 2002, collection of sound recordings.


Related collections

Henri Chopin and OU

François Dufrêne

Maurice Lemaître


Gil J Wolman

By Gil J Wolman’s own account, his biography could be summarized as follows: “Wolman, born in 1929, met a few people, took part in a few events, did a few things.” But as Frédéric Acquaviva recounts, the details of Wolman’s life are far more colorful; in quick succession, Wolman alleges that he was a journalist at Combat, a member of the Communist Youth, a captain on the canal barge Rose Bayadère anchored in Paris, a knitter, an African hunter in occupied Germany, a poet at the CNE, a trafficker in the kasbah in Algiers, a trucker near North Cape, and a barman in Pompeii.        

In 1950, Wolman joined the Lettrist circle founded by Isidore Isou. He became a central figure in the group, producing textual and sound works that sought to dismantle the ossified syntax of words and meaning, and he invented a new kind of guttural, breath-based poetic performance he called mégapneumies. In 1952, Wolman, together with Guy Debord, broke off from Isou, Lemaître, and the other Lettrists to found the Internationale lettriste (or Lettrist International), a break precipitated by their desire to engage linguistic and poetic experimentation with social and political discourse and action. Wolman was active in managing the production of the group’s publications, first their eponymous journal (1952-54), followed by a more informal newsletter format titled Potlatch (1954-57).


In 1957, Debord expelled Wolman from the Lettrist International, on the grounds that he was not politically engaged enough, and only a few months later Debord would go on to found the Situationist International. Wolman returned to some of the more aesthetically and artistically-oriented Lettrist circles, and he continued to produce experimental painting, collage, poetry and sound works, and films. Wolman developed a new kind of collage practice termed “Scotch art,” so called because the artist used adhesive tape to transfer text and images from print media. He is perhaps best known for his film L’anticoncept, first screened in 1952, which consists of blank illumination projected onto a weather balloon, accompanied by a fragmentary soundtrack of spoken staccato phrases and noises, which was banned by French censors shortly after its release.

Recording of "La mémoire," one of Wolman's mégapneumies.

Wolman's mégapneumies manifest the viewpoint of the word given to negation,

from that of the breath to

the concrete quality of air, to expression.


Wolman, L'Anticoncept, 1952, remastered in digital 2010


"A User's Guide to Détournement," 1956, essay by Gil J. Wolman and Guy Debord, English translation on Bureau of Public Secrets.


Gil J Wolman on Not Bored, including photographs and English translations of texts.


Gil J Wolman: I am immortal and alive, exhibition at Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), press release on e-flux.


Gil J Wolman Obituary, The Independent, August 3, 1995.


Gil J Wolman sound works on Ubuweb.

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