Eastern Exchanges in pictures: Craft, or art?

Polly Checkland Harding

Unsure whether to head to Eastern Exchanges at Manchester Art Gallery? Take a look at these pictures of some of the stunning objects on show.

If you walk into Eastern Exchanges, on the top floor of Manchester Art Gallery, one of the first things you’re likely to see is the norimono, or sedan chair, in the corner. Set against the deep blue of the walls in the first of the exhibition’s three distinct sections, this gold lacquered carriage – in which one person would be carried, kneeling – is one of the most stunning pieces in a showcase of East Asian craft and design that evidences not only beauty, but exceptional artistry, too. For instance: one of the artists present at the launch, Jin Eui Kim, explained how he holds his breath to paint 18 different tones of grey in rings on his meticulous ceramics, while they are turned under his brush by a pottery wheel.

There’s a teapot whose creator will have taken five years of daily practice to learn how to make it

While craftsmanship is heavily in evidence – with Imperial Robes on display that took over 500 tailors up to two and a half years to make – the feel of the exhibition makes it harder to see these objects as fine, rather than decorative, art. Although the gallery’s director, Maria Balshaw, argued at the launch that “these categories aren’t stable, and perhaps aren’t useful anymore,” the staid display style here (think plaques and plinths) is more in keeping with a museum than a gallery.

Don’t be put off by the frustrating reflections on the glass cases though. These are objects with incredible stories: there’s a teapot whose creator will have taken five years of daily practice to learn how to make it, and a porcelain orb by Yasuko Sakurai, dappled with holes, that has survived a 20 percent damage rate in the kiln. So, take a look at the pictures below, head over to Manchester Art Gallery, and dive into the history behind them. The plaques are worth reading, promise.

Photo of gold lacquered sedan chair

Organism by Junko Mori

Imperial Dragon Robes

OPject - Luminosity series

Carved elephant tusk

Gold tea pot and canister

Ceramic orb with holes

Aqua Poesy II, tempered metal

Metal tea bowls in a row

Tee Trinken; ceramic coke cans

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