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Minneapolis collector's $41.6 million African art sale sets NY record

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: November 14, 2014 - 8:32 PM
 

Myron Kunin, art collector and Regis Corp, founder

The African art collection of the late Minneapolis collector Myron Kunin sold for a record $41.6 million at Sotheby's in New York on Tuesday.

An extremely rare Senufo Female Statue (pictured at right) shattered the previous world record when it went for $12,037,000. Carved by an artist known as the Master of Sikasso, the Ivory Coast sculpture is one of only five Senufo figures of that type known.

Calling it the Kunin Senufo Female Statue, Sotheby's described it as a "quintessential masterpiece of African abstraction." It has been widely exhibited,  published in numerous important books on the subject, and was included in the Museum of Modern Art's pivotal 1984 exhibition "Primitivism in Modern Art."

Three additional sculptures from Kunin's collection fetched record prices: a Ngbaka Statue of the Mythical Ancestor Setu which went for $4,085,000, a Fang-Betsi Reluquary Head, which sold for $3,637,000 and a Kongo-Yombe Maternity Group which fetched $3,525,000.

The Kunin sale brought in more than $10 million above the high estimate that Sotheby's had set before the sale. The auction house described the results as a "historic total" that was the highest ever for African art. The sale results totaled $41,617,500.

Of the 164 pieces in Kunin's African art collection, all but 40 sold Tuesday morning.

A Minneapolis-based businessman, Kunin (1928-2013) bought out a hair-care business founded by his father and parlayed it into a $2.7 billion enterprise, Regis Corporation, with more than 9,700 salons and stores owned or franchised in the United States, England and France.

Passionate, independent-minded and discerning about art, he amassed world-class collections in several fields, most notably American art from 1900 to 1950. His holdings in that area -- including pieces by Georgia O'Keeffe, Philip Guston, Morris Kantor, Marsden Hartley and Guy Pene Du Bois -- are considered by some to be even more important than the African collection.

More than 75 of Kunin's American paintings were shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2005 in a show called "Villa America." The museum owns very few American paintings from the first half of the 20th century and officials there obviously hoped that Kunin would give or bequeath some key works to the museum where he was a longtime trustee.

Gregarious but publicity shy, Kunin and his wife Anita generously supported many cultural institutions in the Twin Cities. Those gifts were and are typically given in the name of Regis Corporation including the lead gift for the Regis Center for Art at the University of Minnesota, the Regis Master series of exhibitions at the Northern Clay Center and the Regis Foundation for Breast Cancer Research.

Often Kunin bought art in areas that were overlooked, unfashionable or neglected by museums as well as other collectors. As a result he sometimes was ahead of the herd and able to acquire unusual works for comparatively modest prices. At the same time he was quite willing to pay top dollar for prime pieces and he knew very well what they were. Unlike many business moguls who dabble in art, he did not rely on the advice of hired curators but on his own highly educated eye and mind.

"People know I'm psychotic about art and they submit a lot of things to me, but I can't buy everything because it depends on the cash flow of the moment," he told the Star Tribune in a 2005 interview. "So I'm sometimes forced to sell some things to buy something else."

In 1992, for example, he made headlines when he sold a painting by the 19th century British eccentric Richard Dadd at just shy of $3 million, then an auction record for a Victorian-era picture. It was snapped up by English musical producer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Minneapolis curator to head Palm Springs Art Museum

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: November 14, 2014 - 6:58 PM

Elizabeth Armstrong, Minneapolis Institute of Arts curator. Star Tribune photo by Marlin Levison

Elizabeth Armstrong, founding curator of the contemporary art department at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), will become executive director of the Palm Springs Art Museum in January 2015.

A dynamic personality who brought a casual style and keen intellect to her job, Armstrong joined the Minneapolis museum in August  2008 to head a new department of contemporary art and to serve as the museum's assistant director for exhibitions and programs, then a new post. The museum had previously collected contemporary art, but in a haphazard way that left huge gaps in its holdings along with masterpieces by Francis Bacon, Chuck Close, Philip Guston, Frank Stella, Cy Twombly and others.

Armstrong focused the acquisition program on contemporary works that extended or interacted in unexpected ways with  the museum's holdings of traditional art. Key purchases included a photo by Yinke Shonibare, a British-Nigerian photographer whose staged pictures pose provocative questions about colonialism among other issues.

At the MIA Armstrong also founded the Center for Alternative Museum Practice (CAMP), a department that experiments with fresh ways to mix contemporary and traditional art and to engage the public in its appreciation and understanding. She raised $4 million for new acquisitions and curated a number of key exhibitions including "Global Remix I," " What is Sacred?," "More Real: Art in the Age of Truthiness," and "Until Now: Collecting the New (1960-2010)."

In Palm Springs she will oversee a museum that operates from three sites. The main facility is the Palm Springs Art Museum, a 150,000 sq ft. building in the city's center. That entity has a satelite of the same name in Palm Desert and an Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion which just opened just opened on Sunday, Nov. 9.

Armstrong succeeds Dr. Steven Nash who oversaw the Palm Springs museum's growth starting in 2007. He is responsible for adding the two satellite locations.

Prior to her tenure at the MIA, Armstrong was Acting Director and Chief Curator at the Orange County Museum of Art (2001-2008) and Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego (1996-2001). She spent 14 years at Walker Art Center as an associate curator (1982-1996), and before that worked in various capacities doing research and curatorial assistance at museums in Berkeley and San Francisco, California and as a grants administrator at the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D. C. She earned a B. A. in American Studies from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA and a M.A. in art history from the University of California, Berkeley.

Among Armstrong's award winning publications are the books Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury, and American Moderns: Villa America, 1900-1950 which showcased highlights from the collection of the late Myron Kunin, a Minneapolis-based arts patron and influential mentor to Armstrong and others.

Soap Factory in Minneapolis to celebrate 25th anniversary

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: November 12, 2014 - 1:22 PM

Alexa Horochowski's 2014 installation at The Soap Factory. Star Tribune photo by Tom Sweeney

A lot has changed in the 25 years since The Soap Factory art complex started life as No Name Exhibitions.The popoular outpost for Halloween fun and experimental art is celebrating its quarter century anniversary with a benefit  party from 6 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, Nov. 15 in its cavernous, brick-and-timber warehouse, a former soap factory,  at 514 S.E. Second St., Minneapolis.

The Factory's presence there has been a spur to development in what is now a fast-gentrifying neighborhood near the Mississippi River. Back in 1989, what is now a rough-hew home to avant garde art was still a functioning factory.

"There have been a lot of changes in this building," said Ben Heywood, executive director of The Soap Factory. "Back then they were literally melting down animals and turning them into fat and then throwing lye into it and turning it into soap."

Back then a group of local artists banded together and started No Name Exhibitions in another quasi derelict building known as the Skunk House. On the opposite side of the Mississippi and just west of Hennepin Av., the Skunk House was subsequently acquired by the Federal Reserve bank to house its air conditioning plant, Heywood said. No Name then moved into the bottling house of the former Grain Belt Brewery and from there to the Soap Factory in 1995.

"Our exhibition space went from 600 square feet to 50,000 square feet when we moved here, so that's a big change," Heywood said.

The Factory building is still pretty raw, but it too has changed over the years. Now, for example, it has bathrooms. And in January it will add heating and air conditioning for the basement and first floor. Previously the place closed in winter months when there was no heat.

Other improvements include the addition of a permanent staff, rather than volunteers who ran the place until 2002. With staff came a year-round exhibition and performance program. And the ever-popular Haunted Basement Halloween shindig. And now the 25th anniversary party. 

Billed as a "day of citywide fun," the anniversary committee may have overpromised a bit. There won't be hot air balloons or marching bands on Nicollet Mall, much as Heywood would love such stuff. By "city-wide" they mean art impressario and cultural gadabout Andy Sturdevant leading a Soap Factory History tour starting at 3 p.m. Saturday in a vintage bus that will roll past previous Factory locales.

"Andy is a city-wide celebration in himself," Heywood explained. Indeed.

The Factory invited 9,000 people to the shindig and expects a good turn out.

"We can hold 700 people on the first floor and we should have a full house," Heywood said.

Party goers can expect Beatrix* JAR and Solid Gold to kick off the event with DJs Diarrhea (Jackie Beckey) and Christopher Saint Christopher (Christopher Allen) commanding the dance floor and emcee Ian Rans running the show.

There will be complimentary cocktails by Bittercube, gourmet nibbles from Fabulous Catering and Common Roots catering, small plates from Tilia, Heyday, Haute Dish, Third Bird, and the University of MN College of Design. Plus art by Aaron Dysart and Andy DuCett. Performances by artist Jaime Carrera and theater company Live Action Set. Plus an auction, of course.

(Party 6 p.m. to midnight, Nov, 15, tickets $50 to $2,000. The Soap Factory, 514 Second St. S.E., Mpls. For tickets: www.soapfactory.org)


 

Sotheby's to sell African art of Minneapolis collector Myron Kunin

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: November 6, 2014 - 8:35 PM

Myron Kunin, Star Tribune file photo

Sotheby's will auction 164 pieces from the African art collection of Minneapolis hair-salon magnate Myron Kunin at 10 a.m. November 11 in New York City.

In a video "In Pursuit of Beauty: The Myron Kunin Collection of African Art," prepared by Sotheby's and Alexandre Gallery, art dealers from Paris, New York and elsewhere describe Kunin's African collection as among the world's best. Objects to be auctioned range from a Baule bronze turtle from the Ivory Coast that's estimated to sell for between $2,000 and $3,000 (Lot. # 38) to a Senufo Female Statue (Lot #48) for which the estimated price is available "upon request."  Based on the prices of other top lots, the latter estimate is most likely auction-code for more than $2 million.

Other high-end pieces include a Kongo-Yombe carving of a maternity group (Lot #95) estimated at $1.5 to $2 million; a Ngbaka statue (Lot # 119) estimated at $1.2 million to $1.8 million; and a Songye Janus-head sculpture (Lot #141) estimated to sell for between $1 million and $1.5 million.

In the Twin Cities, where Kunin was a long time supporter of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, he is best known for his collection of early 20th century American art, portions of which have often been loaned to the museum. He also provided money for the Regis Center for Art at the University of Minnesota and funded a lecture and exhibition program at the Northern Clay Center.

Kunin's fortune derived from the Regis Corporation, a hair salon business started by his father in the 1920s which Myron subsequently bought and built into a $2.7 billion business with 9,763 salons in the United States, England and France. Or, as the Sotheby's video describes it, "the world's first billion dollar hair care business."

A life-long and passionate art collector, Kunin (1928 - 2013) was a modest guy with an exceedingly shrewd and highly educated eye for art. He never paid the least bit of attention to what was fashionable or flashy, but instead followed his instinct and heart. Often that led him to acquire art that was currently out of vogue and therefore less pricey. But he was equally willing to pay top dollar when a rare and splendid piece was available. One of the dealers recalled that you never needed to sign a contract when you did a deal with Myron Kunin; he was very much a handshake kind of guy. 

The Sotheby's experts describe Kunin's African collection as his second most important after his holdings of early 20th century American art which range from paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe to Guy Pene Du Bois and Gerald Murphy. He also occasionally dipped into Old Masters and 19th century  British paintings.
 

Four Midwestern American Indian Artists Given National Fellowships

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: October 23, 2014 - 2:51 PM

Ojibwe artist Delina White who specializes in traditonal beadwork.

Four artist Midwestern American Indian artists have received fellowships worth up to $20,000 each from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF), a non-profit organization based in Vancouver, Washington.

Winners of the NACF Regional Artist Fellowships are: Kevin Pourier, a carver of buffalo horn ornaments that range from sculptures to eyeglass frames. A member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, he is a Lakota from Scenic, S.D. Jennifer Stevens, a painter, potter and vocalist from Green Bay, Wisconsin who is a member of the Oneida Tribe. Delina White, an expert in traditional beadwork who lives in Deer River, MN and is a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Star Wallowing Bull, an Ojibwe/Arapaho who is a member of the White Earth Band of Chippewa. He lives in Moorhead, MN and is known for his pop-style paintings and drawings of American Indian subjects and motifs. Wallowing Bull's work is regularly shown at Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis.

NACF is  a national nonprofit that supports the appreciation and perpetuation of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian arts and cultures. With money from Native Nations, arts patrons and foundations, NACF has provided nearly $1.7 million in assistance to 89 native artists and organizations in 23 states.

The NACF Regional Artist Fellowship Program is an annual award open to artists in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota who are enrolled members of one of the 37 tribes located in the region and who work in visual or traditional art forms. The awards are made possible by support from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.

In related news, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation also supported a new Native American Artist-in-Residence program at the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). Three artists were picked in August, each of whom will be paid during a six month residency, to study collections at the MNHS and elsewhere that are related to their work. They will also develop programs to share their studies within their home communities. The artists are Jessica Gokey, a bead work artist who lives in Wisconsin's Lac Courte Oreilles community; Pat Kruse, a birch-bark artist from Mille Lacs, MN; and Gwen Westerman, a textile artist from Good Thunder, MN who is of Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate heritage.

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