The museum features a theater which shows various films throughout the day; it also hosts lectures, symposia, and dance and several musical performances year-round.
The Pasadena Art Museum was completed in 1969, designed by Pasadena architects Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey. The exterior is covered with 115,000 brown tiles made by Edith Heath. In the early 1970s, due to an ambitious schedule of progressive art exhibits and a new building project, the museum began to experience extreme financial hardships. Starting in mid-1960s, industrialist Norton Simon rose to become one of the pre-eminent art collectors in the world; by the 1970s he was searching for a permanent location for his growing collection of over 4,000 objects. In 1974, the museum and Simon came to an agreement: Simon absorbed the museum's debts and became responsible for the collection and building projects; In return the museum was renamed the Norton Simon Museum.
In 1995, the museum began a major renovation by architect Frank Gehry. The redesign resulted in more intimate galleries, improved lighting, increased rotating exhibition space and an entire floor devoted to Asian art. The gardens were redesigned by Nancy Goslee Power to house the 20th century sculpture collection. The new Norton Simon Theater was the final element of the renovation, designed by Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates Inc., and is used for lectures, film, dance performances and concerts.
The Norton Simon Museum contains a wide permanent collection of paintings from the 14th century to the 20th, and it is widely considered by many as one of the best among private collectors. It also hosts temporary exhibitions that can treat of a given painter (e.g. 'Picasso's Toros'), art movements (avant-garde) or art developed in a specific area (often located in Asia, e.g. 'Sacred Treasures from Tibet, Nepal and Northern India').
The 19th Century is well-represented, and paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Gustave Courbet, Henri Fantin-Latour, Paul Cézanne and most of the Impressionists are shown. Visitors also find a great number of sculptures and paintings by Edgar Degas.