The Thomas have been collecting art since 1975, starting with the Taos Society of Artists and the California Impressionists. In 1980 Carl further diversified the collection by focusing on modern and contemporary paintings, specifically mid-century global abstract and geometric art centered around the years 1950–79 and the major movements of that period. In 1995, after an encounter with five historic paintings at a gallery in Santa Fe, Marilynn began to build a collection of art of the Spanish Americas; driven by research and discovery, this collection has become world renowned for its scholarly impact on the understanding of the visual culture of the Spanish empire in South America. In 2009, Carl turned his attention to digital and electronic art, developing a pioneering collection that features artistic innovations in technology-based art from the past sixty years and is one of the most extensive of its kind in North America. In 2011, the Thomas began to collect Japanese bamboo art, focusing primarily on contemporary nonfunctional basketry.
Today, the Foundation’s collection reflects the Thoma family’s interest in diverse art forms, from contemporary digital art and modern Color Field paintings to art of the Spanish Americas and Japanese basketry. The Foundation has active acquisition and loan programs. To date, works from the collection—which includes more than 1,500 objects—have been lent to over 165 exhibitions worldwide.
By sharing these collections, the Foundation aims to facilitate engagement with art that challenges perceptions and provides an opportunity to imagine the world anew.
Art of the Spanish Americas
This collection provides insight into the melding of cultures, the colonial resonance, and the artistic style forged by the interaction of Andean cultures and the Spanish empire over hundreds of years. This prominent collection includes over 200 historic artworks that capture the expressions and intertwined history of European and Andean cultures. The first major exhibition centered on works from this collection—titled Virgin, Saints and Angels—was organized by Stanford’s Cantor Center for Visual Arts and went on to tour six international venues from 2006 to 2008. Other collection highlights include exhibitions Reverence Renewed: Colonial Andean Art from the Thoma Collection, DePaul Art Museum, 2008; Spanish Colonial Masterpieces from the Thoma Collection, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 2017 and 2018; and From the Andes and the West Indies: Spanish Colonial Paintings from the Thoma Collection, Frost Museum, 2022 and 2023. Paintings from this collection have been lent to 27 exhibitions and have been published extensively.
Digital & Media Art
This pioneering collection spans the global history of computer art throughout the past sixty years, representing artistic innovations across the field. Carl Thoma’s background in investing in technology drove him to deeply consider the role of generative and digital processes in the evolution of creativity. Thus, the Foundation’s digital art collection encourages a greater understanding of the art and media of modern cultures and shares Thoma’s interest in systematic approaches, scientific thinking, and new technologies. The collection champions several categories of digital and electronic art: early computer drawings, generative art (real-time software processing), time-based art, light sculpture, digital and mixed media sculpture, prints, photography, textiles, film, and video. This collection of over 400 works of art is among the largest collections of its kind in private hands in the world.
Though the oldest artwork in this collection dates to the 1850s, the majority of its more than 230 objects are post-war and contemporary bamboo baskets that played an important role in expanding the field to a more abstract, less literal practice. In particular, this collection traces the continuum of the creation of offering trays—one of the most difficult and advanced objects to create in the temperamental material. The Foundation’s collection of contemporary Japanese bamboo flower trays is the strongest of its kind in America, and likely the world. Despite the medium traditionally being dominated by men, women artists have made an impact on the field and each of the six major woman bamboo artist is represented in this collection. Since the art form’s abstract movement began in the mid-1900s, six Japanese bamboo artists have been awarded the status of Living National Treasure—all but one of whom are included in the collection.
Post-War Painting & Sculpture
The collection of post-war painting and sculpture highlights new forms of color-based abstraction developed from 1950–79, mostly in the United States. Major movements of that period highlighted in the collection include California Hard-Edge, Washington Color School, Light and Space, Color Field, shaped canvas, and a nearly comprehensive representation of artists featured in The Responsive Eye, MoMa’s landmark 1965 exhibition of Op art, in addition to strong holdings of South American Op. Numbering over 140 artworks, the mid-century collection is united by bold colors and strong geometry. An overarching goal of this collection is to challenge observers to reflect on their unique gaze and individual relationship with the art, as well as encourage questions of what it means to see.