Retro Polka Dots Are Back in a Big Way!


John Loengard, Florette and Jacques-Henri Lartigue, 1981 (189.1987)

In fashion, polka dots are usually associated with a retro taste in fabric patterns and a classic style. This pattern has evolved from its appearance on Minnie Mouse’s dress and bow to today’s glamorous and popular designs.

An itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie polka dot bikini has withstood the test of time–in song and in style. Not only worn to make a splash in a sexy swimsuit, this print remains an incredibly timeless option for glitter girls of all ages.


Weegee, [Posing boxing match models], 1950s (8629.1993)

Polka dots have a long tradition in art, starting with pointillism and George Seraut. I’ve been always fascinated by these round marks that marked my childhood, reading my father’s comic strips printed in color and discovering pop art. How could I not be affected after having seen all the dots in Warhol’s black-and-white early works that duplicated halftone printing? Warhol was a master reproducing in art the mechanical process of printing and removing all traces of the individual painter’s brushstrokes.


Weegee, [Yayoi Kusama panting dots on woman during her Body Festival, New York], ca. 1967 (9365.1993)

Yayoi Kusama, a precursor of the pop art movement and a New York avant-garde artist, is largely known for her influence on Andy Warhol. She moved from Japan to New York in 1957 and remained there until 1973. In the late 1960s, Kusama organized a series of Body Festivals where some naked participants were painted with polka dots.

Her passion and obsession for this pattern have been globally recognized through international exhibitions, such as those in 2012 at the Tate Modern in London and at the Whitney Museum in New York.


Francesca Woodman, Polka Dots, November 1976 (2009.82.1)

Polka dots inspired artists in different ways. On one hand, Roy Lichtenstein used Ben-Day dots and Warhol also reproduced the Ben-Day dots of the original print image without any modification. On the other hand, Sigmar Polke experimented with manipulating the dots themselves. Later, and in different ways, the pop and minimal dots also inspired artists such as Thomas Downing and Damien Hirst.


John Baldessari, Blue Boy (with Yellow Boy: One with Hawaiian Tie, One with Dark), 1989 (1.1998.a)

Additionally, it is interesting to compare a Man Ray collage I saw at the Jewish Museum’s Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention exhibition as few years ago with the John Baldessari composition above. The Man Ray’s triptych, Hier: Demain, Aujourd’hui; (ca. 1932) is composed of three black-and-white photographs. In each photo, Kiki de Montparnasse is depicted naked. In the first one, there are six colored dots on her, hiding parts of her body and her face. As you see, Baldessari placed dots over the faces in his work.

Even the graffiti artist Bansky has stormed the dots field, pulling a prank on the art world. The pattern is not restricted to one size, and I’m ready for a new trend like some cheeky speckled and vibrant neon-colored dots…

About Francesca Teodori

I live in New York, but I studied Contemporary Art in Italy and I specialized in Photo Archiving and Cataloguing in Milan. I love photography. I contributed writing and publishing photos, to art magazines and daily newspapers.
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