Tributes to the former director of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, Martin Roth, have poured in following the news of his passing on Sunday (6 August 2017). Roth died in Berlin aged 62 following a period of illness.
He was the first German to lead a major British museum and the V&A’s first foreign director since the Museum was established in 1852. Chairman of the V&A Nicholas Coleridge, said Roth would 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”.
Germany’s Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Moniker Grütters, paid tribute to Roth’s accomplishments in the arts. “The German and international museum world has lost one of the most prominent but also polemical personalities. He took part in numerous discussions with a strong opinion and enriched these debates. His capacity for enthusiasm was contagious”.
Roth’s decision in 2016 to step down as director of the V&A after five years was said to have been hastened by the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Following the vote, he told a German broadcaster about the personal impact the UK’s decision to leave the European Union had on him. “I consider this outcome a personal defeat… What happened to tolerance, solidarity and charity? And I’m not a dreamer. I’m just talking about basic values… Where are they now?”, Roth asked.
Born in Stuttgart in 1955, Roth began his career as a curator at Berlin’s Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum), before assuming the directorship of the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum (German Hygiene Museum) in Dresden in 1991. He assumed a new role as director general of Dresden’s Staatliche Kunstsammlungen (State Art Collections) in 2001.
During his tenure at the V&A, Roth oversaw numerous blockbuster exhibitions including ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ (2015) and the ‘David Bowie Is’ retrospective (2013). Under his leadership the Museum attracted record numbers of visitors and was named UK Museum of the Year 2016.
Following the Brexit vote, Roth sought to take on a more politically active role in Germany and was appointed honorary president of the Institute for International Relations. Identifying first and foremost as a European, he was concerned by the “cultural barriers” that he anticipated would be erected as result of the UK’s departure from the EU.
“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” Roth said in September 2016.