The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA

Resnick Pavilion
June 9, 2013–September 15, 2013

Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, commissioned to rethink the east campus at LACMA, continues to provide new insight into the meaning and function of an encyclopedic museum and the relationship of architecture to its site. The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA, an exhibition that was on view at the museum through September 15, 2013, presented the future of the museum's campus through a detailed examination of the museum's buildings within the complicated history of Hancock Park. The exhibition highlighted Zumthor’s preliminary plans for a new building to house the permanent collection, and included several large models built by the architect’s studio.

The exhibition also presented key projects in Zumthor’s career that are relevant to his vision for LACMA: the Therme Vals in Switzerland, Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria, and the Kolumba Art Museum of the Cologne Archdiocese in Germany. These projects have resulted in Zumthor winning the highest accolades in the field of architecture, including The Pritzker Prize (2009) and the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal (2013). Together, these examples elucidate key aspects of Zumthor’s practice – his interest in the geologic history of the site; his passion for materials, craftsmanship, and sensory experience; and his commitment to an architecture of total integration.

The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA is part of Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.  This collaboration, initiated by the Getty, brings together seventeen cultural institutions for a wide-ranging look at the postwar built environment of the city as a whole, from its famous residential architecture to its vast freeway network, revealing the city’s development and ongoing impact in new ways. Learn more.

The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and major support for the exhibition was provided by the Getty Foundation and Hyundai Motor America. This exhibition was also made possible in part by LACMA’s Wallis Annenberg Director’s Endowment Fund.

Support provided by




Images: Installation views, The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA, June 9—September 15, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA.

Anterior view of saber-toothed cat cranium and jawbone
John L. Ridgway (United States, 1859–1947)
c. 1920–32
Shin'enkan (later Pavilion for Japanese Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, completed 1988)
Bruce Goff (United States, 1904–1982)
Therme Vals
Peter Zumthor
Switzerland, 1996
Kunsthaus Bregenz
Peter Zumthor
Austria, 1997

Michael Govan on Reconsidering LACMA with Peter Zumthor

This week may turn out to be a historic moment for LACMA and Los Angeles County if indeed we proceed with the new museum plan that we have sketched out with Pritzker Prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor, and that we are exhibiting in The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA—opening to members on Thursday and to the public on Sunday, and presented under the auspices of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time Presents series of architecture exhibitions. To complement the other, more historical shows that are part of that initiative, ours is a glimpse of a potential future for architecture in Los Angeles.

The History (and Future) of a Museum in a Park

In planning The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA, we decided to begin our story with the famed La Brea Tar Pits. While it may seem unusual to start an architectural history in the Ice Age, we were inspired by Zumthor’s deep investigation of his project sites.  We soon found that LACMA’s unique location has impacted its buildings almost from the very beginning…