Tadashi Sato Atomic Abstraction in the Fiftieth State, 1954–1963

Tadashi Sato (1923–2005), Untitled, 1957, Oil on canvas, 40 x 58”, Private Collection


October 23 – December 11, 2022
The Art Gallery, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM), Art Building

The Art Gallery at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is proud to present “Tadashi Sato: Atomic Abstraction in the Fiftieth State, 1954–1963.” This exhibition examines the work of Tadashi Sato (1923–2005), one of the most significant and visible Hawaiʻi-born painters of the twentieth century. From early Precisionist-mentored studies celebrating urban life during the 1940s, to luminous large-scale abstract canvases of the 1950s, to monumental public art commissions, the show looks at Sato as an artist whose painting sprang from post-war aspirations towards modernity and democracy and whose unique position as a Japanese-American veteran born in Hawaiʻi gives us a greater understanding of the complexities of American identity during a decade of intense cultural change and transition. The first major exhibition of Sato’s works in over twenty years, the show features never-before-seen artworks and archival materials to demonstrate that Sato’s painting was the site of significant and ongoing public conversations in Hawaiʻi pitting abstraction against representation, debating the value of public art, and speculating on who audiences would be for art in the new state of Hawaiʻi.

The exhibition closely follows the early development of Sato’s painting leading up to his first major public commission, the 65-foot mural entitled Build Thee More Stately Mansions (1963) at the Maui War Memorial Center in Wailuku, Maui. The mural was destroyed and the majority of its known fragments are reunited for the first time in this show. A room within the show, “Tadashi Sato’s Circle: The Art of Hawaiʻi and the Image of Statehood, 1959,” contextualizes Sato by examining artwork made by his peers including Bumpei Akaji, Satoru Abe, and Sueko Kimura. This project draws on historical materials and critical perspectives to expand our knowledge of Abstract Expressionism beyond canonical artists to foreground the work of less well known practitioners, creating new art historical narratives for American postwar art.

Artist Bio

Born on Maui in the Territory of Hawaiʻi in 1923, Tadashi Sato volunteered to serve in the 442nd combat unit during World War II, then studied painting under the G.I. Bill with Ralston Crawford and Stuart Davis at the Honolulu School of Art, the Brooklyn Museum Art School and Pratt Institute. From 1958 onward, he was represented by the Willard Gallery, New York, where his exhibitions were reviewed in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Art in America, The Christian Science Monitor, and other major publications of the era. Significant exhibitions include the Whitney Annual (1965), the White House Festival of the Arts (1965), and Tadashi Sato: A Retrospective at The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, HI (2002). He was a founding member of Honolulu’s “Metcalf Chateau,” pioneers of modern art in Hawaiʻi. His work is included in the permanent collections of The Whitney Museum, The Guggenheim Museum, the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Hawaiʻi State Foundation for Culture and the Arts, The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and the Yale University Art Gallery. His best known work is Aquarius (1969), the 36-foot glass mosaic at the heart of the Hawaiʻi State Capitol in Honolulu, HI.


This exhibition was curated by Maika Pollack, Director and Chief Curator, John Young Museum of Art and University Galleries. Thanks to: Satoru Abe, Harry Tsuchidana, Gail Goto, Marianne Johnson, Juli Kimura, Kate Kobayashi, Misa Kobayashi, Cheryl Moore, Esta Nerney, Craig Ochikubo, Jon Ochikubo, Janice Shimamura, Grant Tsuchidana, Heidi Berman, Margery Bronster, Mrs. Donald Mark Chang, Herb and Nancy Conley, Peter Dods, Walter Dods, Mallory Fujitani, Mark Fukunaga, Dr. Clayton Honbo, Gussie and Rodney Medeiros, the Mukai Collection, Harry Oda, Dale Ruff and Rey Soriano, the Raymond "Sus" Sakamoto family, Roy and Denise Yamaguchi, the family of the late Wally Yanagi, Jon and Jan Yokouchi, and anonymous donors.

Special thanks to Joyce Okano and Fred Tanaka.


This exhibition is made possible by the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Department of Art + Art History and College of Arts, Languages & Letters; and supported by the Halekulani Hotel– Hospitality Sponsor for the Arts at UH Mānoa, the Cooke Foundation, the Beverly Willis Foundation, the Michael J. Marks Foundation; and anonymous donors.

THE ART GALLERY is located at 2535 McCarthy Mall, Rm 141, Honolulu, HI 96822.

Gallery hours and admission

Wednesday - Sunday 12 – 4 p.m.

Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, winter break, and state holidays.

Free admission. Donations are appreciated.

Parking fees may apply during weekdays. Parking is free on Sundays

For more information please contact 808.956.8364 and gallery@hawaii.edu