German director of leading London museum quits for new role to promote open societies

Martin Roth, the German director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, resigned at the beginning of September citing the result of the EU referendum as one of the main reasons. After 5 years at the helm of one of the most celebrated cultural institutions in the UK, he said he made the decision not out of frustration but of “responsibility.”

In an interview at BBC Radio 4 “Front Row”, he announced plans to return to Stuttgart, his hometown, where he will be president of the Institute for International Relations. The move, he explained, was motivated by the rise of nationalism not just in the UK but across Europe: “One has to do something. It’s is one of the reasons why I am leaving. I want to be more engaged in this open society idea.”

He said: “I am European. If you grew up in Germany in the 1960s you have to be European, you do not want to be German. It’s my identity and it is great to live here [in the UK], but the terms and conditions are changing.”

For cultural institutions, he expects it will become more difficult to work internationally in the future. “We all remember how it was when Europe was different, it was more difficult to work with other countries and other museums. Those open borders gave us a completely different situation. We work with an international community. We work with a lot of people abroad and we have 28 nations working inside the V&A.”

In the BBC interview, Roth compared new nationalism to climate change: “We know something will come, but we don’t know exactly what it is and when it will hit us and how it will be, but definitely the situation is changing.”

He quoted Winston Churchill’s speech of 1946, saying that “the only future of Europe is united”, and Francois Mitterrand’s “nationalism means war.” He added: “We all have these family backgrounds… in those countries we were all victims and it was horrible. Maybe one has to be a bit older and people forget too early, but this bloodshed Europe has to stop.”

As a director of a museum with global views on culture, he said one is responsible not just of the objects, but of the value system in the collection. “If you run a museum like this and you don’t have a political or social responsibility, I think there is something wrong.”

Roth has been director of the V&A since 2011. During his tenure the museum has organised some of its most successful exhibitions and in 2016 received the Art Fund Museum of the Year award.

© Europe Street.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. The central garden of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, United Kingdom.

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