Flavorwire Staffers’ All-Around Best Cultural Experiences of 2014

2014 may not have been a… stellar year for some people the planet, but it wasn’t totally irredeemable! Here at Flavorwire, we’ve had the opportunity to see exhibitions from Davids Lynch and Bowie, see acts from Aimee Mann to Sugar Ray in the flesh, and even move halfway across the world. Here are our all-around best cultural experiences of the past year, before we move on to the next.

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Taking in David Bowie Is at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art

From fashion designers (Alexander McQueen, Jean-Paul Gaultier) to filmmakers (Tim Burton), retrospectives of left-of-center celebrities have become a full-on trend at art museums whose biggest boldface names used to be Damien Hirst and Kara Walker. The danger of these shows, which never fail to draw the derision of the visual-art faithful, is that they’ll dumb down one our few public institutions devoted to high culture. But, popular as he is and was, there’s nothing stupid about David Bowie — in fact, the exhibition of his ephemera that opened at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum last year and is currently touring the world is nothing if not a tribute to its subject’s intelligence. Going into David Bowie Is, I knew I’d be bowled over by the decades’ worth of costumes. What proved even more fascinating, though, were the artworks (in all media) that inspired Bowie over the years and the extensive notes that show how much thought he put into every aspect of his work, from his stage spectacles to his role as Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ. — Judy Berman, Editor in Chief

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Reading some doorstops

This year, I read two huge books: Doris Lessing’s postmodernist feminist classic The Golden Notebook and Dickens’ dark saga of murder on the Thames, Our Mutual Friend. Both reading experiences were deeply challenging and satisfying in the way that few contemporary books are. I also read the first Outlander novel, which was long and enjoyable in an entirely different away. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor at Large

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Seeing the Manic Street Preachers play The Holy Bible

I flew across the Atlantic for this, which is surely the most extravagant thing I’ve ever done, and it was worth every penny. Favorite band ever doing favorite album ever? Yes. Yes. Yes. — Tom Hawking, Deputy Editor

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Seeing Aimee Mann’s Christmas show

Forgive me, because this one’s fresh in my mind, but last weekend, I finally made it out of the house and went to Aimee Mann’s Christmas Show at Town Hall here in New York. A sorta-tradition that began when she released her Another Drifter in the Snow album a few years back, the entire show was warm and funny and generally wonderful. But the highlight was wholly unexpected: the appearance of surprise guest Susanna Hoffs, who burned the stage down with a swoon-worthy performance of the Bangles’ 1987 cover of “Hazy Shade of Winter.” It wasn’t a Christmas song, and absolutely nobody cared; it was also one of the first pop songs I really got hooked on when I came of age to listen to Top 40 radio, so getting to hear it live was an unexpected pleasure from which my preteen self has not yet recovered. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

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Attending David Lynch’s exhibition The Unified Field at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

I feel a personal connection to this show for several reasons, so I was happy to explore it after the whirlwind surrounding Lynch’s arrival in Philadelphia died down a bit. Lynch has called the city fantastic and terrifying, and part of the show becomes a blueprint of Philadelphia anxieties. — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

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Obsessing over True Detective

True Detective may have had a disappointing ending, but it’s a rare thing when a piece of culture convinces millennials to break out of our self-paced binge watching ways and experience something live and all at once. For eight weeks, I had a standing date with friends to drool over Rust Cohle and float conspiracy theories, and I can’t wait to do the same with season two — no matter how much of a pompous jerk Nic Pizzolatto comes across as in interviews. — Alison Herman, Editorial Assistant

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Seeing Kneehigh Theater’s Tristan and Iseult

This adaptation, which came to St. Ann’s Warehouse from Cornwall, drew on the legend of Tristan and Iseult’s startlingly realistic notions of the ephemerality of love. With silly hats and audience-participation balloon blowing, it used childlike humor to seriously inspect the nature of love, and featured one of the most emotional climaxes I’ve seen onstage. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

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Making a Sugar Ray pilgrimage

I went to Atlantic City to see Sugar Ray, Blues Traveler, Smash Mouth, and Uncle Kracker in a dying casino. It was one of the silliest things I’ve ever done and therefore one of the most fun. Plus, I won 78 cents from a slot machine. — Pilot Viruet, TV Editor

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Traveling the world

This year, I traveled to three different international cities with strong artistic histories — Berlin, Barcelona, Montreal — and envisioned my life in each of them. With all due respect to Montreal’s on-point poutine and cured meat game, it was the cultural onslaught on my Berlin/Barcelona trip in May that highlighted 2014 for me. In Berlin, I saw the Victoria and Albert Museum’s traveling David Bowie Is exhibit (now showing at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art) with zero inkling that it would quickly become the best museum exhibition on music I’ve ever seen (more on that here). A few days later, I jetted off to Barcelona to attend Primavera Sound for the first time. Most of the American acts who played are music fest regulars, but the shifted pacing of the festival towards late-night sets made for a much more enjoyable experience. Plus the curation is just a little more angled towards discovery, and the setting in an architectural park right on the Mediterranean Sea kicks Grant Park’s ass any day of the week. (More on Primavera here.) — Jillian Mapes, Music Editor

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Marveling at Citizen and Olive Kitteridge

Two things from this year that are out-and-out masterpieces: Lisa Chodolenko’s HBO miniseries adaptation of the beautiful novel-in-stories Olive Kitteridge, with Frances McDormand as a flinty, unforgettable Mainer; and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, the most urgent book of the year, where Rankine writes a lyric poem where she, so alive and aware, places “you,” right in the middle of the microaggressions, the cruelty and carelessness that our society wrestles with in our flawed, tormented, collective narrative about race. — Elisabeth Donnelly, Nonfiction Editor

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Living in London

I spent several months of this year in London. I had no money, no full-time job, no means of legal employment. And I incurred a fair amount of debt. But it was better to up-and-move and shift around and change things up. I recommend doing something similar. — Jonathon Sturgeon, Literary Editor

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Seeing Perfume Genius at the Music Hall of Williamsburg

I’ve been championing Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas since the release of Learning, so it was with the weird sad-happiness of an early adopter that I saw Hadreas thrust into the spotlight with his newest, amazing LP Too Bright. This show, which was sold out and full of fellow gays ready to cry their damn eyes out, saw the arrival of Perfume Genius as a fully-formed thing, his beautifully vulgar lyricism paired with a confident, arresting performance that comes flooding back every time I blast “Queen” through my headphones. — Shane Barnes, Editorial Apprentice