Borders are not only artificial, they are senseless,” says Martin Roth, the director of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.“[Why] do we still think in national terms when our collections and ourresearch programs are totally international?” It is a question Roth hasbeen asking since he took over his post, in 2001. At the time, herecalls, the Kunstsammlung’s constituent museums hadn’t really changedsince the fall—or, for that matter, the rise—of Communism.
In only seven years, Roth, 53, has brought the organization—whichoversees 11 institutions, including Germany’s most prestigious OldMasters collection and Europe’s most famous porcelain museum—into the21st century by dramatically expanding its connection to the rest ofthe world. He has been the driving force in creating a cooperativerelationship among the Dresden collections, the Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin and Munich’s Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen. The three have begun to work in tandem with the new Dubai Culture and Arts Authority,which is planning to build an ambitious new museum complex based on thetrio’s collective advice. Currently the German players are actingmainly as consultants, but Roth stresses that the Dubai institution mayalso serve as a home for future exhibitions including work from thethree museum groups.
Dresden is now a model for globalizing a fine-arts institution, andRoth has become an ambassador for the idea of the universal museum,which is rooted in 19th-century Germany’s ambitious attempts to createpublic institutions covering the whole history of civilization. Miguel Zugaza, director of the Prado, calls Roth “one of the great defenders of the European museum identity.”
For his entire career, Roth has been breaking down borders of one kindor another. A Stuttgart native and a trained anthropologist who nowsplits his time between a Baroque apartment in Dresden and ahigh-modernist villa in Berlin, he first found his way across theEast-West German divide, and into the museum world, in the early 1990s.Not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, he became directorof the Deutsche Hygiene-Museum Dresden, an early 20th-century science museum in the former East Germany, which had languished under the Communists.
“Our identity was never German,” Roth says of West Germans of hisgeneration, who grew up in the shadow of Nazism. “The only chance foran identity was to have an international one.” His internationalism ison ample display this month. His long relationship with the Palace Museum in Beijing led to an exhibition at Dresden’s Royal Palace thatdisplays works from China’s imperial court alongside pieces created forthe Saxon electors in their Baroque heyday. Meanwhile, the Prado ishosting an exhibition of Dresden’s Classical sculptures, and the J. Paul Getty museum is featuring highlights of the city’s Old Masters in a show about Renaissance and Baroque art from Bologna.
“This is a beautiful collection,” Roth says of Dresden’s stellar holdings. “Not Saxon, not German, but a beautiful international collection.”
"Profile: Martin Roth"" originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Art+Auction. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Art+Auction's December 2008 Table of Contents.