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Gil Joseph Wolman (1929–1995) was a French artist born in Paris, pioneer in researching the intersection and alteration of visual and textual languages. His work encompassed painting, poetry and film-making.
Wolman was an active agent provocateur from an early age.
He formed part with Isidore Isou of the avant garde Letterist movement in the early 1950s. The Lettrism was an artistic and intellectual movement. It maintained that the expressive heights of all artistic languages (poetry, music, painting, etc) had already been reached, and that a stagnant historical moment had arrived where anything produced was doomed to repetition or decadence. In order to initiate a new creative cycle, it was necessary, first and foremost, to go back to the beginnings, the deconstruction of artistic languages, meaning a return to signs emptied of their semantic weight, a return to letters.
In February 1952 Wolman was part of a major scandal, mounting a screening of five films, including his L'Anticoncept, the first of his experiments in "Cinematochrone". At the ends of 1952 Guy Debord founds the Lettrist International, a splitter movement. Debord and Wolman posited extending the Lettrist revolution to a criticism of social and political life, and to personal commitment with what they called ‘a sufficiently new way of living life itself’. After a few years, and for reasons never explained, Debord expelled Wolman from the movement. Following his exclusion, Wolman continued to develop his own work, and he re-established links with the original Letterist movement. In 1964, however, he split again from Isou's group, to establish the short-lived Second Letterist International.
The exhibition consists of four parts and due to the number of works, documents and publications included in it is a sort of history of the Lettrism.
The first part is the film L’Anticoncept, projected onto a weather balloon placed in front of the theatre’s curtain. The image comes on and off, with the black and the white alternating intermittently and with different rhythms, and the sound consists of poems, brief reflections and syncopated texts falsely sung.
The second part of the exhibition focuses on the period when Wolman with Debord and others separated from Isou’s group to form the Lettrist International (1952–57). During those years, Wolman and Debord wrote the manual Mode d’emploi du détournement. Détournement (detour) is the Lettrist technique of altering and undermining the meaning of deliberately plagiarised material.
The third part are the ‘Scotch art’ compositions (produced by means of a procedure that consists of tearing strips of printed paper and taping them to wood or canvas) that were shown at the Galerie Valérie Schmidt in 1964, 1966 and 1968.
The fourth and last section of the exhibition deals with the works related to the ‘separatist movement’ that Wolman created in 1977; he was the movement’s sole member. In search of simplicity (‘the more simple, the more beautiful,’ he used to say), he limited himself to splitting objects in two, without greater aesthetic concerns.
This monographic exhibition of Wolman’s work is the first ever held in Spain and consists of about 250 works and documents, from L’Anticoncept (1951) to Voir de mémoire (1995).
Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) from June 4, 2010 till January 9, 2011.