R.I.P., John Buchanan

Until self picked up the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday, she had never heard of him.  But his death was announced on p. 1, and self’s attention was aroused when she read that he was the director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Last year, for the first time ever, self became a member of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.  Her membership was to expire in December.  Self didn’t have to think twice: she renewed.

In the last year alone (2011), self saw great exhibits at both the Palace of the Legion of Honor and at the de Young.  At the Legion of Honor, she was introduced to the art of Isabelle de Borchgrave in an exhibit called “Pulp Fashion.”  de Borchgrave fabricates the most ravishing costumes out of paper.  And not just any costumes, mind you:  hers are inspired by paintings by Goya and Rubens and many other classic painters.  In addition, self saw an exhibit on Dutch and Flemish masterworks (“Masters of Light:  Dutch Painters in Utrecht During the Golden Age”) that gave her a new appreciation for the sky, and an exhibit on the French impressionist Camille Pissarro (Particularly moving were the paintings of his beloved daughter, Camille, who becomes noticeably thinner and hollow-eyed with each passing year.  In the last portrait, she lies in bed, a shadow of her former self.  She passed away at nine).  She also saw part of a Roman street, excavated near Lod, Israel, and transported to the Legion of Honor (Self overheard someone wondering aloud how they had done it; she was able to help because she had read, somewhere, that the street was “rolled up” and transported by ship).

Then, the de Young exhibits:  In the summer, self saw a powerful and moving exhibit on the Olmecs (strange, mysterious people, whose massive sculptured heads once lined a broad avenue along which conquered peoples were made to walk.  The heads were so huge that even gazing at just one was overwhelming.  Imagine a whole avenue of these things, elevated?  Atop columns?  Prisoners must have been quaking with fear).  That was followed by the Picasso exhibit, to which she managed to bring son.  He wanted to see the “Balenciaga and Spain” exhibit (Son is always surprising self, these days), in another section of the de Young, and it was there that self learned that Balenciaga was the creator of “the little black dress,” the epitome of the modern woman.

Self really wanted to bring son to the “Masters of Venice:  Renaissance Painters of Passion and Power” exhibit, showing now at the de Young, but son was only here for a week, and there was no time.

So, self feels that she does owe a big debt to the man who organized all these exhibits, John Buchanan, who died of cancer, last Friday (Dec. 30).  He was 58.  Here’s more from the article:

  • “I’m a populist, and I’m not afraid to say it,” he told The Chronicle soon after accepting the San Francisco job.
  • During his six years at the Fine Arts Museums, comprising the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, Mr. Buchanan presided over impressive growth in attendance and a 70 percent increase in membership.  Combined attendance at the Fine Arts Museums in 2010 ranked fourth among museums in the United States and 16th in the world.  The 2010 “Birth of Impressionism:  Masterpieces From the Musée de Orsay” brought the de Young more than 4,600 visitors daily.
  • Just when the world economic crisis began to crimp people’s plans to travel to destination museums abroad, Mr. Buchanan’s initiatives brought countless great artworks close to home.
  • Mr. Buchanan came to San Francisco after almost 12 years as director of Oregon’s Portland Art Museum.  Its transformation under his leadership gave him a rainmaker’s reputation in the world of arts administration.
  • In Portland, Mr. Buchanan oversaw extensive museum reconstruction and expansion, a spate of acquisitions and a fivefold increase in the institution’s endowment.
  • He was born in Nashville in 1953.  His parents were “a school administrator and a utility company manager.”  He received a bachelor’s degree in English at Sewanee, the University of the South, then a master’s in art history from Vanderbilt.
  • The family requests that donations in Mr. Buchanan’s memory be made to the Director’s Discretionary Fund at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, (415) 750-3687, or in support of the research of Dr. Andrew Ko (research fund B2098) at UCSF Medical Center, (415) 502-1899.

The article was written by Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker.

BTW, right now and up to Feb. 19, Bernini’s Medusa is on exhibit at the Legion of Honor.  Here’s what the museum website says about it:

Believed to date from around 1638 – 1648, this extraordinary work takes its subject from classical mythology, as cited in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  It shows the beautiful Medusa, one of the Gorgon sisters, caught in the terrible process of transformation into a monster.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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