Remembering former V&A director Martin Roth: his defining moments

Martin Roth, who previously served as V&A director, has died aged 62 – we look back on his contribution to museums and cultural enrichment across the world.

The late Martin Roth, former director at V&A © Thierry Bal

Martin Roth: 16 January 1955 – 6 August 2017

Through his life’s work, Martin Roth had a positive impact on art and culture both in the UK and internationally.

During his five-year stint at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum between 2011 and 2016, he helped to materialise museums in Dundee and Shenzhen, and deliver blockbuster shows such as those on David Bowie and Alexander McQueen, broadening the museum’s scope and making art and design accessible to a wider audience.

Born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1955, Roth kept a connection with his home country. Before joining the V&A in 2011, he held curator and director roles at various museums and art galleries in Germany such as the German Historical Museum and the Dresden State Art Collections. He also sat on advisory boards for multiple cultural organisations.

He died on 6 August 2017 aged 62, after a battle with cancer. Here are some of the defining moments of his life and career:

1987: Roth gains a PhD from the University of Tubingen, which focuses on the political and historical background of German museums and exhibitions between 1871 and 1945. The qualification kickstarts Roth’s expertise in understanding the context of museums, no doubt aiding his ability to enlighten cities with culturally enriching experiences.

1995: He becomes president of the German Museums Association, a post he holds for eight years. The organisation helps to promote cultural diversity and inclusivity, and idea sharing between people from different backgrounds and countries, through exhibitions, meetings and conferences. Roth is later given an honorary presidential role again in July 2017, the month before he died.

Roth spearheaded the creation of the V&A Dundee, which is due to open in 2018

2001: He is appointed director general of the Dresden State Art Collections (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden) in Dresden, Germany, and holds this role for 10 years.

Under his term, the gallery sees the opening of several new and renovated spaces, and becomes more international-looking, with collections travelling to Japan, the US, London, Moscow and Beijing.

The gallery praises Roth as an “engaged world citizen” whose time in charge was “one of the most significant and trend-setting in the (gallery)’s history”, giving it “a strong voice on the world stage”.

2007: He receives the French Order of Arts and Letters (Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) – the equivalent of a British Honour – recognising his contributions to art and culture, in particular the cultural exchanges he has created between France and Germany.

2010: He receives the Danish Order of the Dannebrog, the Honours system in Denmark, for his contributions to the arts.

Roth led a blockbuster exhibition on David Bowie in 2013

2011: He is given the role of director at London’s V&A for his “commitment to the arts internationally”, according to then-minister for culture, communications and creative industries, Ed Vaizey.

He holds the position for five years. In 2013-2015, Roth oversees blockbuster exhibitions David Bowie Is and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, which help to broaden the V&A’s audience and catapult its visitor numbers to its highest ever, at 3.3 million.

He also leads the refurbishment of many of the museum’s galleries and collections, and the build of the new Exhibition Road Quarter, which later opened in 2017.

He pushes for the museum to become international, forming partnerships to produce the V&A Dundee and Shenzhen (both due to open in 2018), and places greater value on design by establishing a design, architecture and digital department at the museum.

In 2016, the V&A is awarded the Art Fund Museum of the Year, praised by the judges for its “exceptional imagination, innovation and achievement across the previous 12 months”.

Roth headed up an Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A in 2015 © V&A Museum London

2016: Roth steps down from his position of director at the V&A, after reportedly telling a German international broadcaster of his anguish at the UK’s Brexit vote. His cancer diagnosis became known to the public shortly after this.

Nicholas Coleridge, chairman at the V&A, praises his time running the museum as a “highly successful period of creativity, expansion and reorganisation”, saying he contributed greatly to the museum’s success.

2017: Roth dies on 6 August aged 62 in Berlin, Germany. He is remembered by the V&A – and many of the cultural organisations and museums he worked for – as a man devoted to the cause of promoting arts and culture all over the world.

V&A chairman Coleridge describes him as a “director with a global reputation”; a “committed Europhile and cultural ambassador” and a “devoted husband and father”. “We will greatly miss Martin, and are profoundly grateful for his considerable contribution to the V&A,” he says.

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