The Petersen Automotive Museum.

Across the street from Renzo Piano’s LA County Museum of Art on Museum Row bursts forth the new Petersen Automotive Museum, opened in 2015.

Like a mummified volcano at a daytime disco, the three-storey structure erupts in reflective ribbons. Designed by New York-based Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), “The Pete” (as it will henceforth be known for reasons largely unrelated to my own vanity) houses a remarkable collection of motoring milestones – it’s just a shame that they’re all presented so blandly.

With relatively low ceilings, cold concrete floors, blah LED lighting, dimensionless displays, and no natural daylight save the doors at the entrance, the interior ambiance is dark, cold, and entirely uninspired.i Overall, architecturally, the exterior is dramatic and perfectly effective in curbside distinction, but the interior is unengaging for visitors and unflattering to the exceedingly special vehicles on display.ii It certainly doesn’t make me want to go back as intended, not in the way the Guggenheim, Neue Nationalgalerie, or Getty Center do. Which is too bad because, curatorially, the permanent exhibition is remarkable.iii The condition and historical importance of the vehicles on display is pretty much peerless, only the temporary exhibition of sci-fi movie cars seems a bit overwrought, though it was also the most popular on the Sunday afternoon I was there.

Anyways, here’s a little gallery of my personal highlights from the Petersen Automotive Museum, including the placards describing each vehicle so you actually know what you’re looking at. The one stand-out amongst the lot ? The Shah-to-be’s 1939 Bugatti Type 57C. It drips.

As you can see, there was also some kind of Alfa Romeo owner’s club meet-up on the rooftop parking lot on that Sunday in May. A beautiful day for it but the average age was 70-years-old and the event had all the energy of a shopping mall food court on a weekday morning. The best vehicle up there wasn’t even part of the adjudicated show : a Signature 100 series Tesla Roadster in British Racing Green parked off to the side.

Certainly, LA is the place to have a museum such as “The Pete.” The climate is beautiful, the collectors are numerous, and there’s a public appreciation for cars, or at the very least a pathological reliance.iv It’s still a bit of a disappointing that the windowless warehouse housing this fine collection doesn’t “do more,” but if you can look past the lacklustre presentation, the quality of content is right up there with the best.

You can visit the museum’s website here.
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  1. Ahem…

    Wannabe Architect - The Onion

    Or something like that, at least.

  2. If only Robert E. Petersen had hired MAD Architects like George Lucas did for his new museum in LA, set to be completed in 2021. Though to be fair to KPF, they only oversaw a $90mn renovation of the existing building, not an entirely new build.
  3. The selection of books in the gift shop was also top-notch even though the lighting in there gave me a massive headache. I’d highly recommend “Fast Forward: The Cars of the Future, The Future of Cars” published by gestalten. It’s lovingly researched and exquisitely illustrated.
  4. Despite being eminently walkable within the various boroughs (between boroughs obviously requires driving), no one does! The sidewalks are generous, in immaculate condition, and yet entirely vacant. The few stray pedestrians (mostly observant Jews) are also hilariously observant of pedestrian signage in a way totally foreign to those from the east coast. No one jaywalks in LA and they even drive their cars two blocks to get a litre quart of milk. It’s kinda bananas.

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