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Martin Roth, former Director of the V&A, dies

Martin Roth

Martin Roth left the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2016, not long after it won the prestigious Museum of the Year Award.

Martin Roth was the first German to head a major UK museum.  He died from cancer in Berlin, aged 62.

During his five years in charge of the iconic London museum, visitor numbers soared.

“Martin will be remembered as a man of prodigious energy, a director with a global reputation both within the museum world and beyond, a committed Europhile and cultural ambassador with a philosophical turn of mind, as well as a devoted husband and father,” says Nicholas Coleridge, Chairman of the V&A.

Roth had been on a mission to raise the international profile of the museum. His initiatives included the V&A’s presence at the Venice Biennale, alongside the expansion of the museum to China, Dundee and East London.  He oversaw the founding of the V&A research unit, and also the opening of restored galleries devoted to European arts and crafts of 1600-1815.

“This, combined with exhibitions such as David Bowie Is, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Disobedient Objects and Engineering the World: Ove Arup, raised the V&A to new heights,” says Coleridge.

“We will greatly miss Martin, and are profoundly grateful for his considerable contribution to the V&A.”

When Roth announced his departure from the museum, it came as a surprise.  Partly he wanted to leave the museum in robust health and on a high. However he also felt very strongly about Brexit and was alarmed at the UK decision to leave the EU.

“For me, Europe is simply synonymous with peace,” he said in an interview with German broadcaster DW. “I didn’t want to be a German. I did not want to grow up in a country that had killed a huge part of its population.

“So for me, Europe always gave hope for a peaceful future, based on sharing, solidarity and tolerance. Dropping out always means creating cultural barriers – and that worries me.”

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, said he was “shocked and saddened” by the news of Roth’s death. “Martin was an energetic moderniser of museums,” says Fischer.

“He was a great advocate of museums playing an active role as institutions in today’s societies, and he did much to internationalise collections. He fostered global cooperation and exercised considerable skill in cultural diplomacy. He will be missed.”

Monika Grütters, the German Culture Minister, also paid tribute. “With the passing of Martin Roth, the German and international museum world has lost one of the most prominent but also polemical personalities,” she says. “He took part in numerous discussions with a strong opinion and enriched these debates. His capacity for enthusiasm was contagious.”

Image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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