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Former V&A Museum director Martin Roth dies

August 7, 2017

The first foreign-born director of London's V&A Museum, Martin Roth was an influential member of the arts community both in his native Germany and abroad. He has passed away at the age of 62.

Martin Roth
Image: Getty Images/C. Marquardt

Museum director Martin Roth, formerly at the helm of London's Victoria and Albert Museum, died Sunday at age 62 after a serious illness.

The German-born academic established his career as one of Germany's most successful cultural figures before becoming director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from 2011 until 2016. He was the museum's first foreign director since its foundation in 1852.

At the V&A, he oversaw popular exhibitions on art and design, including the 2013 David Bowie retrospective and a 2015 show on the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen.

Pink Floyd exhibition in V&A Museum
The first-ever Pink Floyd exhibition held in London drew record visitor countsImage: DW/J. von Larcher

Visitor numbers reached record heights during his tenure. Last July, the V&A was named 2016 Museum of the Year, winning the UK's largest arts prize.

"It was already one of the best-loved museums in the country: This year it has indisputably become one of the best museums in the world," said the president of the jury Stephen Deuchar when the prize was awarded.

Read more: V&A director Martin Roth on Brexit: 'We could be ruining everything our parents achieved'

V&A Chairman Nicholas Coleridge praised Roth for making it his mission to raise the institution's profile under his leadership and being the impetus behind numerous initiatives, including the V&A's presence at the  Venice Biennale and the founding of its research institute, among others. 

"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," said Coleridge.

Leaving the UK

Roth resigned from the V&A in 2016 less than three months after the results of the referendum came in on whether the UK should leave the European Union.

In an interview with DW's Stefan Dege just ahead of the vote, he made his stance clear: "Just the thought that we could be ruining everything our parents' generation achieved - a policy of peace, reconciliation and common thought - is quite a horrible perspective."

Although he claims Brexit was not the main reason for his departure, he told German radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk in an interview, "I simply want to get politically involved again."

Read more: London's V&A museum director Martin Roth set to resign, disappointed by Brexit

Last June, Roth was appointed president of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (Institute for International Relations), an honorary position.

His death has affected many in both the culture and political worlds, both in Germany and the U.K. Germany's Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media Monika Grütters released a statement Monday morning about his active role in the arts community.

"With the passing of Martin Roth, 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."

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel likewise mourned Roth. "In his successful career, Martin Roth set new standards for the museum world. His death, which comes much too soon, deeply affects me."

A former colleague from the V&A, Brendan Cormier, lead curator for 20th and 21st-century design, took to Twitter to honor Roth as a source of inspiration.

Roth's career in Germany

Isabel Pfeiffer-Poensgen & Martin Roth with a painting by Gerhard Richter
Roth took Dresden's State Arts Collection to new heightsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Hirschberger

Roth got his start as a museum director in Germany.

After establishing his career as a curator at Berlin's German Historical Museum, he took on the role of director at the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden in 1991, before becoming director general of the eastern city's famed State Art Collections in 2001.

ct/kbm (with dpa)

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