V&A colleagues and friends share their memories of Martin Roth, the V&A’s Director from 2011 – 2016, who has sadly passed away.
Tim Reeve, V&A Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer
Many people who came across Martin would have seen the quintessential cultural leader – a museum director from central casting – tall, good looking, well groomed, lots of different pairs of glasses, urbane, stylish travel case in hand, 2 or 3 mobile phones being endlessly shuffled. And he was all of those things, incredibly charismatic, always comfortable being photographed and microphone in hand on a discussion panel in some far flung and exotic location. I was lucky to see the more private side of this force of nature. More at ease in smaller groups, always ready for a walk and a long conversation in Hyde Park or an Espresso at Orsini, a text to remember a family event that you were almost certain he would not remember, a well-made and well-chosen toy for my son, always a chocolate Santa left mysteriously on the desk at Christmas, and his absolute insistence on walking out of the building with me at the start of a long trip or vacation, to say good bye properly. He was a big thinker, and a restless spirit, but above all he was a great person.
There is so much we at the V&A have to thank Martin for. The rollercoaster of working together – scary, fun, exhilarating. The pride and imagination with which he represented our great institution home and away. For encouraging us all to take risks, to search for the new, the different, the alternative – to imagine a greater impact and role for our museum in the 21st century. He left the V&A richer than he found it. He leaves those who knew him with expanded minds, a broader perspective, enticing if sometimes hazy horizons, endless possibilities – acutely aware of went before, but facing forwards to a future of limitless possibility.
Edmund de Waal, artist, writer and Trustee of the V&A
Martin was a man at home with ideas. I saw him in Dresden where he masterminded twelve museums, racing through the galleries explaining why contemporary art mattered in baroque palaces. In Berlin, leading conversations about history and restitution with politicians and students. And in London, thinking aloud about the central place of the V&A in our culture. He wanted the museum to be a space where opera and engineering and design could be explored alongside fashion, sculpture and the decorative arts. I saw Martin a few weeks ago in his beautiful garden in Berlin and though very ill he was as expansive and interested as ever, asking about the textures of the new Exhibition Road Quarter and discussing the Venice Biennale. He was a true and loyal friend, terrifying behind the wheel of one his cars, funny and exacting in his expectations, passionate in his internationalism. Martin’s early death robs us all.
Do you have any memories of Martin you would like to share? Please add your memories through the comments below.