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Art

Top 10 Events in the History of Polka Dots

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Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 4:24 PM

click to enlarge COURTESY GAGOSIAN GALLERY
  • Courtesy Gagosian Gallery
"A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement... Polka dots are a way to infinity." --Japanese polka dot artist, Yayoi Kusama

As British artist Damien Hirst unleashes more than 300 of his Dot artworks today, with simultaneous openings at 11 Gagosian galleries worldwide, including Gagosian Beverly Hills, we revisit the influence the humble polka dot has had on art, film, fashion and the universe.

click to enlarge dots_480_Galactic_Metropolis.jpg
Year 0: Planets and stars are born in the shape of polka dotsWho are we to say whether there's a God, whether that God is male, female, gay or straight, Democrat or Republican. But one thing's clear: if there is a God, God is great at forecasting fashion trends, as evidenced by the general design of the universe, which is comprised almost entirely of polka dot-shaped planets and stars.

click to enlarge Dots_480_Churchill_bow_tie.jpg
1840: Polka Dots Infiltrate Fashion, Specifically Bow Ties and Kerchiefs

Some say it was the gypsies bringing their moon-shaped mirror embroidery to the flamenco dancers that started it all, but most fashion historians agree that the polka dot as we know it was born in mid to late 19th century England, where dandies like Beau Brummel (who took five hours a day to get ready) started a trend for dotted scarves, bow ties and the such, with the ladies following suit. The trend faded for a while in the 1920s, reappearing in the 1930s on now-prized Bakelite jewelry items, and worn triumphantly by war leader Winston Churchill. That's right, polka dots are versatile enough to be considered appropriate attire while you are defending your country from Nazi invasion.

click to enlarge Annoying song, great fashion
  • Annoying song, great fashion
1960: "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" song heralds the return of the dot

The ability of the polka dot to confound and arouse men was never more succinctly expressed than in this un-feminist, proto-Playboy anthem, about a shy voluptuous girl who wins mens' hearts -- specifically singer Brian Hyland's. The polka dot revival of the 1960s started right there, on her dotted breasts.

click to enlarge YOUTUBE/FUN4EILEEN
1961: Walt Disney Dresses Minnie Mouse in Dots

Maybe he was a fan of Brian Hyland's song, but when Walt Disney dressed Mickey's girlfriend Minnie in a red polka dot dress he cemented the humble dot's place in the annals of popular culture.

click to enlarge Kapow!!! Now you're seeing spots
  • Kapow!!! Now you're seeing spots
1962: DC Comics unleashes Polka-Dot Man

This DC Comics supervillain should have spent a little longer figuring out a better superpower...I mean seriously, who thinks polka dots will provide adequate defense against Batman? Indeed, Polka-Dot man was brutally defeated when Batman jumped inside three dots in his uniform, causing him to disintegrate.

click to enlarge Because polka dots are more avant than you - FACEBOOK.COM/YAYOI KUSAMA
  • Facebook.com/Yayoi Kusama
  • Because polka dots are more avant than you
1963: Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama turns dots into avant garde art

Like her contemporary Roy Lichtenstein, Yayoi Kusama was obsessed with dots, believing they contained messages for us about life and the universe. She started out by covering all the surfaces in her home with polka dots, then her naked assistants, calling these dotted landscapes her "infinity nets." The dots came to her in hallucinations; she now lives voluntarily in a mental hospital in Tokyo, close to her studio where she still produces work to this day. "If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago," she has said, yet more proof of the life-saving and restorative capabilities of polka dots.

click to enlarge WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
1975: French bicyclists force Tour de France winners to wear dots

Looking like you have chicken pox or Bubonic plague means you're a winner, at least as far as the Tour de France is concerned, whose champions have been handed dotted shirts to wear since 1975.

click to enlarge There was nothing spotty about Randy Rhoads'  guitar playing - FACEBOOK/RANDY RHOADS
  • Facebook/Randy Rhoads
  • There was nothing spotty about Randy Rhoads' guitar playing
1980: Randy Rhoads, ill-fated guitarist for Ozzy and Quiet Riot, makes polka dots metal

Polka dots aren't very metal when you think about it, but that didn't matter when Randy Rhoads' unleashed his black and white dotted Flying V guitar. This insanely talented guitarist, who died too young in a plane crash in 1982, could have shredded on a My Little Pony guitar and he still would have melted faces.

click to enlarge Julia Roberts' iconic spotty brown dress
  • Julia Roberts' iconic spotty brown dress
1987: Pretty Woman Julia Roberts makes prostitution classy again in dots

Who doesn't remember Richard Gere taking Julia to the races in this pretty brown polka dotted frock? Well, maybe if you were born in the 90s you don't, but trust us...this was a major fashion moment, sparking copies world-wide.

click to enlarge COURTESY GAGOSIAN GALLERY
  • Courtesy Gagosian Gallery
2012: Damien Hirst invites us into his dot matrix

Call him art genius, call him master marketer...whatever your thoughts of Damien Hirst are, he, like us, understands that the fabric of the universe is comprised largely of polka dots floating in space. And for that we salute him. Just take a look at his dotted art, which he's been making since 1986. His mega-exhibition "The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011," opening tonight at Gagosian Beverly Hills and 11 other Gagosian spaces galleries around the world, could net him up to $100 million, depending on how many of his 300 works sell (about 150 are for sale, the rest are on loan from private collectors and museums.) Dotted collaborations with shoe designer Manolo Blahnik and streetwear company Supreme ensure that mere mortals can grab a slice of this dotted history, too.

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