These were our top five:
The Warhol Two-fer
The National Gallery of Art and Hirshhorn teamed up for a pair of exhibitions, “Warhol: Headlines” and “Andy Warhol: Shadows” that are big, important shows in an economy that’s not as accomodating as it once was. “Shadows” was a particular coup for D.C., bringing together more than 100 canvases never before displayed together. (Both continue just for a couple more weeks, so consider this your last chance to see it.) Another highlight: Edgy programming paired with the shows, including the Downtown Scene Film Festival and a concert set to Warhol’s screen tests.
“Fela!’s” stomp through Washington
The touring musical “Fela!” turned Sidney Harman Hall into a pumping Nigerian nightclub for a brief while in the late summer, and it was one of the hottest tickets in town. And a highlight of the run may have been when the cast and musicians made a late-night, post-show appearance at Montserrat House for a concert of Fela Kuti’s music that lasted till well past 2 in the morning.
Synetic Theater’s silent “King Arthur” was one of the most over-the-top, splashy spectacles we’ve seen on the stage in ages. [Correction: Synetic’s “King Arthur” left such an impression on us, we forgot it took the stage in 2010, not 2011.]
Many happy returns
2011 was a year for revisiting old favorites, which turned out to be more inspired than it sounds. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend another evening with the high-energy talent that populated “Oklahoma!” at Arena Stage? Woolly Mammoth brought back the riveting Pulitzer winner “Clybourne Park,” Constellation returned to the fantastical fairy tale world of “The Ramayana” and Synetic Theater remounted some of its most celebrated Silent Shakespeare. Beyond the theater world, the Phillips Collection celebrated its 90th birthday by reinstalling Augustus Vincent Tack’s abstract paintings in the music room and hanging its trademark, Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” in its original location. And at the Freer, the busy beauty of the Peacock Room was restored to its original state.
An art scene, diversified
It was a year of cultural cross-pollination thanks to new destinations such as the Dunes, Lamont Bishop and Montserrat House. The locales, which might be best described as permanent pop-ups, played host to the musically-inclined cast of “Fela!,” an exhibition of photography by Moby, SpeakeasyDC storytellers and temporary fashion boutiques.
Well-documented success: Silverdocs
Often one of the best film festivals of the year, Silverdocs hit it out of the park in 2011, offering Washington way early looks at excellent documentaries such as “Project Nim,” the lauded films “The Swell Season” and “Buck,” (one of critic Ann Hornaday’s movies of the year) and the Tribe Called Quest documentary, “Beats, Rhymes & Life.”