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.