One our way north from the South Korean port city of Busan towards the capital of Seoul we stopped by briefly in a few of the cities that had been pinned on the map as possibly interesting places to take a day or two to explore to see more of Korean culture and how life is led outside of some of the much bigger, robust and more well known traveller visited cities.

The second city we would be stopping by and Couchsurfing in (instead of sleeping in a bath house again) was the fifth largest Korean city of Daejeon.

Eating with our couchsurfing host in Daejeon - Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon

eating and drinking piles of Tofu with Juhee our Couchsurfing host

Having done some brief research before we arrived we were already aware that there wasn’t the largest offering of architecture or art on offer for us to explore, but we were keen to explore what the city had to offer all the same.

Having spoken with our Couchsurfing host Juhee about where to go and how to get there, we started our walk from her house to observe the modern art of Korean and international artists at the Daejeon Museum of Art

Of course, it was closed

Daejeon Museum of Art Logo - Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon

the logo outside the building was as close as we were going to get

Unfortunately for us the museum had just finished a large exhibition the day previous and had shut the whole museum down in order for them to take everything out to start again in a few weeks time.

A huge downer considering we’d arrived in Daejeon with very little time to use before the last leg of our journey to Seoul.

Feeling a little lost and unsure of what to do having spent the past forty-five minutes walking along the river to reach it, we stood about for a short while wondering what to do in the meantime before heading back.

Call it fortune, but during our standing around looking quite aimless and probably quite clueless, we both notice that in the fields around the museum there were a number of school groups standing around chatting, acting about as school groups normally do, observing and sketching some of the open-air sculptures in the park – and walking over to another museum.

Group of students inside the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon - Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon

We Followed Them Inside

Acting like complete sheeps we followed one of the groups around the corner towards a smaller building separated about 30 meters away from the main museum passing through the door to the main atrium where we’re presented with the standard four white walls and minimal decoration you can come to expect from an art gallery or museum.

Apart from the silhouettes of men that covered one whole wall that is

Art on the wall of Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon

The museum we’d stumbled into was the home and exhibition space for the Korean-born artist Ungno Lee – the Ungno Lee Museum of Art. Famous for his abstract printed and calligraphy pieces centered around the movement of the human body not only in South Korea, but also in the international field, especially in Europe where he spent a lot of time in France and the former East Germany.

Info on the wall inside Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon

Working almost solely with black ink using Korean methods of calligraphy and Korean printing, the work generally is comprised of large scale pieces of humans at a moment of movement, be it dancing, skipping or any other moment of pure physical pleasure.

Stunning Art at the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon

What’s really not evident until closer inspection is the delicacy that Ungno Lee must have taken in the two or three strokes – rarely any more than that – of his brush to capture the human spirit so wonderfully and without the typical detail you come to expect from a drawing or painting focused on high energy output.

Men Silhouettes - Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon
Close Up of Men Silhouettes - Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon

For the most part the pieces are in the pure black and white which I imagine is one of Ungno Lee’s telltale features, but the few pieces of colour (in my opinion) captured the diversity of energy of humanity in a far greater way, but I suppose that’s just more for my taste.

More art at Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon

At the time of our visit the exhibition in place was entitled ‘TEXT & HUMAN – a re-interpretation of Ungno Lee’s art in the social network era’, a examination of the theme found in Lee’s artwork of the way human beings can at times be regarded as more similar to text.

The team that organised the work and brought the theme together also were fortunate enough to bring the works of other artists who frequently work around the same idea of capturing the narratives of a human or many human beings.

The artists selected were British artist and modern master of Pop Art, Julian Opie and French conceptual artist Sophie Calle, both of which fit into the exhibition perfectly and are worth investigating further.

Julian Opie info at Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon
Julian Opie art at Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon

Towards the end of the brief exhibition (the building is only three main gallery rooms) you enter the climax of the “storytelling of the exhibition” as the documentation for the exhibition explains:

viewers follow the artists’ works and participate in giving them meaning based on their own understand … at this point they are no longer just following the text, but become part of the text themselves.

Basically, the opportunity to is presented to be a part of the visitor wall.

Pictures shucked to the wall at Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon

As each patron rounds the corner into the final room they are asked to draw or write absolutely anything that comes to mind having just seen the pieces on display. It can be connected to the work or Ungno Lee or any of the other featured artists, it can be related to something that happened during your day or just how you’re feeling. Following that, they take your picture and paste it to the wall for the time of the day you took part.

Needless to say, we didn’t hesitate in participating.

Franca at the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon
Dale's photo at the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon
Our photos at the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon

Joining in the fun felt really natural and a chance to have a good time, perhaps filled with the energy of the figures featured in all of the artworks we’d passed on the gallery walls, it was really interesting to participate in.

Perhaps even more interesting was the opportunity afterwards to look for our photos on the wall against all those who’d been through over the previous days and weeks, seeing a brief glimpse into their day, their feelings at the time captured for eternity.

Kid photo at the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon
"Photo at the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon (1)
"Photo at the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon (2)
"Photo at the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon (3)
Photo at the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon (4)
Photo at the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon (5)
Photo at the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon (6)
Photo at the Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon (7)

And in between them all, we found our place.

Photos on the wall of Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon

Not What We Expected

Though visiting the Ungno Lee Museum of Art had never been on our agenda, we were really thankful to find this small dedication to an artist South Korea is evidently quite proud of especially as his work has touched and connected with some many at home and abroad.

Silhouette at Ungno Lee Museum of Art, Daejeon


Child: 300WON / £0.16 / $0.25 / €0.19
Adult (25-64): 500WON / £0.27 / $0.43 / €0.32
Child (Under 6) & Over 65: Free


#157 Mannyeon-Dong, Dunsandae-ro, Seo-gu, Daejeon

View Ungno Lee Museum of Art in a larger map

In Summary

We count ourselves lucky that the main art museum of Daejeon was closed as we may have missed the Ungno Lee Museum by spending all our time in the large main building, plus, for such a tiny price it was really hard to say no to.

Should you find yourself in Daejeon, we’d certainly recommend a visit.

Are you familiar with Ungno Lee’s work?