The ZKM is a foundation under public law and pursues exclusively and directly charitable purposes.

Its governing bodies include the Foundation Board and the Board of Trustees.

The Foundation Board is responsible for the basic lines of the Foundation's research, development and expansion planning, in particular the long-term planning of cooperation with other research and educational institutions; the medium- and long-term financial planning and the definition of the economic and staffing plan and the approval of projects which have or may gain greater cultural, scientific and economic importance. 

The Board of Trustees comprises 12 personalities from the fields of art and culture, science, business and public life. They are appointed by the Prime Minister of the State of Baden-Württemberg in agreement with the Lord Mayor of the City of Karlsruhe for a term of four years on the proposal of the Foundation's Board of Directors. The Board of Trustees advises the Foundation Board and the Executive Board on all important cultural and scientific issues, and if such bodies so desire. It also contributes to external quality control.