Minneapolis collector Myron Kunin’s African art collection sold for a record $41.6 million at Sotheby’s in New York on Nov. 11.
An extremely rare Senufo Female Statue 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 its kind.
Calling it the Kunin Senufo Female Statue, Sotheby’s described it as a “quintessential masterpiece of African abstraction.”
Three additional sculptures from Kunin’s collection fetched record prices: a Ngbaka statue of the Mythical Ancestor Setu that went for $4,085,000, a Fang-Betsi Reliquary Head that sold for $3,637,000 and a Kongo-Yombe Maternity Group that fetched $3,525,000.
The Kunin sale brought in more than $12 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 died in 2013 at 85. He 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 Pène 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 hoped that Kunin would give or bequeath some key works to the museum where he was a longtime trustee. He gave 230 paintings, drawings and other works to the MIA.
Kunin and his wife, Anita, supported many cultural institutions in the Twin Cities, 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.
Unlike many business moguls who dabble in art, Kunin did not rely on the advice of hired curators but on his own highly educated eye and mind.
“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.”