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PASSINGS: John Buchanan

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John Buchanan, 58, who brought popular shows to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco that raised membership and attendance but also drew criticism for pandering to low-brow tastes, died Friday of cancer, the museums announced.

Buchanan ran the Portland Art Museum for 11 years before leaving in 2006 to became director of the Fine Arts Museums, made up of the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor.

During his six-year tenure in San Francisco, he procured such crowd-pleasing exhibits as "Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" and "Yves St. Laurent" to the city.

Critics accused Buchanan of damaging the museums' reputations by importing spectacles from elsewhere instead of promoting the projects and scholarship of the museums' curators. San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker wrote not long after Buchanan arrived that some in the art community wondered whether he was more interested in "fluff" than fine arts.

"I'm a populist, and I'm not afraid to say it," he told the Chronicle.

Buchanan also mounted exhibits of renowned Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, including works by Pablo Picasso.

Buchanan was born in Nashville in 1953 and educated at University of the South and Vanderbilt University, where he earned a master's in art history in 1979.

-- Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports

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