Woo Jaeghil Art Museum in Gwangju dedicated to singular artist

By Shim Woo-hyun
  • Published : Jul 28, 2019 - 16:49
  • Updated : Jul 29, 2019 - 09:52

GWANGJU - Woo Jaeghil Art Museum in Ullim-dong, Gwangju, a quiet area near Mudeungsan National Park, is surrounded by trees, hills and mountains.

The museum, which opened in 2001 as a private museum, underwent a major renovation and reopened in 2014. The new building is designed by renowned architect Seung Hyo-sang.

Artist Woo Jae-ghil (left) and WooJaeghil Art Museum’s director Kim Cha-soon pose at Woo’s basement workshop at the museum. (Shim Woo-hyun/The Korea Herald)

“The museum first took off as a personal workshop for artist Woo Jae-ghil. But the museum had more than enough space for the artist, so we decided to use the museum also as a cultural center that holds educational programs, seminars and cultural events in which local citizens and artist can take part,” said museum director Kim Cha-soon in an interview at the museum Wednesday.

Kim, Woo’s wife who is also a dedicated patron of the artist, supported Woo’s career for decades. It was also Kim who convinced Seung to design the new museum.

The underground space of the museum -- measuring about 100 square meters -- is where Woo spends most of his time. The studio, flooded in sunlight from the skylights, is full of Woo’s paint and tools.

Woo, born in 1942, is a Gwangju-based artist known for the use of bright colors.

“When I was a child, there was this hill behind the place I was living. I remember going up there one night and being mesmerized by the beauty of fireflies,” Woo said. “Since then, I have always been fascinated by lights.”

Woo’s recent works were presented at the July 12 opening ceremony of the FINA World Aquatics Championships, currently running in Gwangju, as part of Korean media artist Lee Lee-nam’s projection mapping work featuring recent paintings by Woo and other artists, titled “Flowering Future -- Light of Mudeung, Light of Peace.” 

An installation view of the “Light of Mudeung, Light of Gwangju” exhibition at Woo Jaeghil Art Museum in Gwanju (Woo Jaeghil Art Museum)
An installation view of the “Light of Mudeung, Light of Gwangju” exhibition at Woo Jaeghil Art Museum in Gwanju (Woo Jaeghil Art Museum)

In a career spanning five decades, Woo has held 96 solo exhibitions and has participated in many group exhibitions, including the inaugural 1995 Gwangju Biennale and Seoul Museum of Art’s 2008 exhibition featuring Korean abstract painters.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Woo created illustrations for acclaimed novelist Han Seung-won, father of Man Booker International Prize winner Han Kang. Han’s novel with Woo’s illustrations was serialized in a local daily.

The artist counts as among the most memorable experiences his participation at the 1993 Daejeon Expo. Woo’s works were featured with fashion designer Lee Kwang-hee’s collection and as part of the stage set at a fashion show held as part of the Daejeon Expo.

WooJaeGhil Art Museum is now holding the “Light of Mudeung, Light of Gwangju” exhibition, which shows a three-minute video of the opening ceremony of FINA World Aquatics Championships as well as a 2D version of “Flowering Future - Light of Mudeung, Light of Peace.”

By Shim Woo-hyun (