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Sad New Year’s Eve News: John Buchanan, FAMSF Director, Has Died

I just received the news that Buchanan, at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco for the last six years, died yesterday at the age of 58.

Here’s a link to the press release.

JohnBuchanan.jpgPreviously, Buchanan had served as executive director of the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon (1994-2005), director of Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee (1986-1994) and executive director of the Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences in Peoria, Illinois (1982-1986).

Buchanan was a controversial figure in the museum world, criticized for staging too many popular exhibitions in fashion, jewelry, Impressionism, etc., at the expense of scholarly exhibits that advanced ideas.

But by the numbers, he was a success.

As the press release notes:

Under Buchanan’s six-year stewardship the Museums welcomed over 11.9 million visitors, presented over 100 special exhibitions rooted in the depth and diversity of the museums’ permanent collections, oversaw the publication of 31 exhibition catalogues and collection-based publications, and increased the museums’ membership to 122,000 households. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have the third largest membership in the nation, are the fourth most visited art museums in North America and are the fourteenth most visited museums in the world.

In its obit for Buchanan, the San Francisco Chronicle noted that Diane B. Wilsey, president of the museums’ board of trustees, had appointed a governance committee of seven of the top administrators as soon as Buchanan took medical leave in mid-December. It is headed by the CFO Michelle Gutierrez.

I knew John, and while he did have weaknesses as a museum director, he also had strengths. He threw his life and his enthusiasm into every museum he worked at. My sympathies go to his wife, Lucy.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


  1. […] worse at the San Francisco Museums of Fine Arts. When the late director John Buchanan was alive (he died in December 2011), the museum fared well — by the numbers at least. He was somewhat controversial, having too much […]

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