Obituary: Martin R. Schärer

The excellence of the professional and the finesse of the museologist
Martin R. Schärer (1945-2023)

Martin R. Schärer left us suddenly at the end of last year; we can only mourn the loss of a former ICOFOM President and, above all, a remarkable man. Martin played a considerable role within ICOM and, more generally, in the museum world. Creator and first director of the Alimentarium de Vevey, in Switzerland, he never ceased, throughout his life, to combine theory and practice, illustrating by example the importance of theoretical reflection for the development of museum-related professions.

A born organizer, he designed and set up an innovative interdisciplinary museum devoted to food. It was against this backdrop that he joined the ICOFOM family, hosting our committee’s annual symposium in Vevey in 1991, devoted to a theme closely linked to his own interests: the language of the exhibition (Icofom Study Series 19-20). He became Chairman of the Committee in 1993 – at the same time as assuming the presidency of the Swiss National Committee – and launched a number of projects within ICOFOM, the most famous of which is undoubtedly the publication of a thesaurus of museology, which would become the Concepts clés de la muséologie (2010), and then the Dictionnaire encyclopédique de muséologie (2011), to which he actively contributed. Martin’s work with ICOM steadily intensified throughout his career: as a member of the Executive Committee, he held the position of Vice President of the organization from 2004 to 2010, then chaired its Ethics Committee for many years. This never prevented him from regularly following the activities of the committee linked to his “first love”, museology. Within ICOM, Martin was a tireless advocate of the importance of scientific debate, reflection and transmission within the museum world. With this in mind, he organized several particularly enlightening “museological” exhibitions at the Alimentarium, offering visitors keys to understanding the logic and language of the exhibition. This theme, to which he devoted several books, is undoubtedly one of the legacies he left to succeeding generations of museologists.

But what all those who had the good fortune to cross his path will remember above all are his human qualities and his openness to others. Multilingual – German-speaking, he spoke perfect French and was equally at home in the other ICOM languages – he had inherited the diplomatic talents of his native Helvetia. Welcoming, never refusing to invest himself in the plan of museology, we shall miss his expertise, his reflection, but also his smile and his benevolence.

François Mairesse, 2023