Carl and Marilynn Thoma
Chicago; Santa Fe, New Mexico
Private equity (Thoma Bravo)
When Carl Thoma first got to Silicon Valley in the 1970s, the tech industry’s behemoth was still in its infancy. With roots in the Oklahoma panhandle, he would eventually build what is now one of Wall Street’s top-performing software private equity firms, Thoma Bravo, and boasts an estimated $83 billion in assets. And hunting for innovative tech companies looking to move the world forward would soon lead Thoma to look the new and cutting edge in other places as well. That is where his fascination with computer-generated art began. “You just knew this art would become the mainstream one day,” he told ARTnews.
Thoma and his wife, Marilynn—known for their 1,500-item collection spanning centuries that is housed in their namesake Chicago-based foundation—never followed the easy path when it came to collecting art. While Carl took to pioneering digital works, Marilynn found an early obsession, around 25 years ago, with Viceregal art, a category dedicated to paintings produced in what is now Latin America, when the region was still under Spanish colonial occupation in the 17th to 19th centuries. Their holdings spans the gamut of work by artists working with video like Christian Marclay and Nam June Paik to postwar Abstract Expressionists like Sam Francis and Helen Frankenthaler, and has toured the country on several occasions.
The couple considers their collection something they wish to share with the public, and by mounting traveling shows like they have in the past the art can tell stories about humanity. Though the Carl possesses the kind of business savvy few have done in order to amass such success, he has little interest in the art trade. He and his wife prefer to remain as they have for many years, as stewards of culture. “We’re never going to sell it for a gain,” Thoma said of the collection’s fate. “We’re buying it to share with the public.”