48, "Senufo Female Statue (deble), Ivory Coast or Burkina Faso, 36 1/4
By Carter B. Horsley
November 11, 2014 auction at Sotheby's New York of the Myron Kunin
Collection of African Art is one of the most important tribal arts
auctions in many years and is highlighted by a Senufo Famile Statue
(deble) from the Ivory Coast or Burkina Faso, Lot 48. It is
36 1/4 inches high and once belonged to William Rubin, the museum
curator who organizated the Primitivism exhibition at the Museum of
Modern Art in New York, and Armand Arman, the artist, of New
It was exhibited at the Museum of Primitive Art in New York in 1961,
the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1984-5, the Museum of
African Art in New York in 1993, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in
1994, the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore in 1994, and the Minneapolis
Institute of Arts in 2009 and 2010. It has been widely
The large and sumptuous catalogue devotes 13 pages to the lot.
The catalogue commentary by Heinrich Schweizer, senior vice president
and department head New York, African and Oceanic Art, Sotheby's New
York, noted that
"The Kunin Senufo Female Statue, created by a Senufo artist from Ivory
Coast in the 19th or early 20th Century, is one of the most iconic
African sculptures. With its miminalist lines it visualizes
the concept of timeless female beauty. One of the greatest
achievements of man in the sculptural representation of the human form,
the Kunin statue transcends the corpus of African art and is best
described as a masterpiece of world art....The highly stylized
minimalist features of the Kunin figure place it into the exceeding
rare corpus of works by the so-called Master of Sikasso....Apart from
the Kunin figure, only two other statues by the artist are known": one
in the Dallas Museum of Art and a second formerly in the collection of
Helena Rubenstein of New York....In its minimalist representation of
the female body, it can only be compared to less than a handful of
sculptures, such as a marble statue by the Cycladic artrist known as
the Schuster Master (circa 2400 bC, or Alberto Giacometti's Grand Femme
Debout II (1959-60). Standing in line with these great
artists, the innovation of the represtion of facial features and
groundbreaking use of open space in the Kunin Statue has yet to be
The Kunin Senufo statue is marvelous, but it has a bit more competition
than just the Schuster Master and Giacometti.
A second essay, entitled "At the Intersection of African and Modern
Art," by Michael Fitzgerald, states that the work is "not only one of
the most magnificent African sculptures, it is also at the center of
the intellectual tradition that shaped American (and, indeed, global)
understanding of tribal and modern Western art in muich of the
The essay reproduces a photograph of the "Traditional Art of the
African Nations" held in 1961 at the Museum of Primitive Art in which
14 male and female Senufo figures, many very similar to this work, were
shown and this work is shown as included.
The catalogue did not indicate the location of most of the other
It has an "estimate on request."
It sold for $12,037,000
including the buyer's premium as do all results published in this
The auction total was $41,617,500 with 78.5 percent of the offered lots
Anita Kunin in catalogue photograph
Kunin, who died October 30, 2013, inherited a small chain of
barbershops from his father and renamed it the Regis Corporation, which
grew to 10,000 hair salons world-wide and 80,000 employes. He
became a major donor tothe Minneapolis Institute of the Arts and was a
major collector of 20th Century American Art.
Sherbo female figure, Sierra Leone, 35 1/2 inches
31 is a very beautiful and graceful, buxom Sherbo female figure from
Sierra Leone. It is 35 1/2 inches high. It has a
very fine finish and patina and pose. It has an modest
estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It failed to sell.
Kneeling Female Figure, Dogon, Mali, 8 1/4 inches high
are many other masterpieces in the Kunin Collection.
Lot 1 is a fabulous small kneeling Dogon female figure from Mali.
It is 8 1/4 inches high. Its angularity is
sensational. The catalogue entry notes that "With
rhythmically echoing lines, cubistic geometry, and ornately-fashioned
openwork, this ingenious Dogon figure is a masterpiece of minature
sculpture," adding that "the extraordinary artistic quality of this
object affirms Myron Kunin's carefully refined aesthetic."
The lot was once with Merton D. Simpson of New York.
It has a modest estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $32,500.
Ancestor figure, Chamba, Middle Benue River Valley, Nigeria, 12 1/2
of the auction's finest and strongest pieces is Lot 54, an ancestor
figure, Chamba, Middle Benue River Valley, Nigeria. It is 12
1/2 inches high. It is extremely and wonderfully abstract
with a great face and an unusual treatment of the arms. It
has a modest estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $43,750.
Lot 78, Wurn
Mabwo Mask, Cameroon, 10 1/2 inches high
Lot 78 is a very
dramatic and impressive Wurn Mabwo Mask from Cameroon. It is
10 1/2 inches high and has been very widely exhibited. It has
a modest estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $245,000.
Lot 100, Nail
power figure, Kongo-Yombe, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 43 1/2
Lot 100 is a
good Kongo-Yombe nail power figure from the Democratic Republic of the
Congo. It is 43 1/2 inches high. It was formerly in
the collection of Ben Heller of New York. It has an estimate
of $300,000 to $500,000. It
sold for $785,000.
Lot 8, Dogon
or Bamana couple, Mali, female is 19 3/4 inches high and male is 18 7/8
8 is a very attractive couple, either Dogon or Bamana, from Mali.
female figure is 19 3/4 inches high and the male is 18 7/8 inches high.
It has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 32, Baule
Portrait Mask of Moya Yanso by Owie Kimou, 14 1/4 inches high
32 is an impressive Baule Portrait Mask of Moya Yanso (circa 1890-1973)
by Owie Kimou (d. 1948). It is 14 1/4 inches high and was
with the Yanso famiuly until 1995. It has been exhibited at
the Yale University Art Gallery, the Art Institute of Chicago and the
Museum of Modern Art. It was the cover illustration for
"Baule African Art, Western Eyes" by Susan M. Vogel published in 1997.
It has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $197,000.
Reliquary head, Fang-Betsi, Gabon, 9 1/8 inches high
82 is a good Fang-Betsi reliquary head from Gabon. It is 9
1/8 inches highy and was once in the collection of Joseph Brummer of
Paris who was a prominent art dealer and handled Modigliani and
Brancusi, and Robert Coady, whose Washington Square Gallery was the
first to exhibit African traditional art in New York. It was
exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2012-13 and has been
widely published. It has an estimate of $600,000 to $900,000.
It sold for
Female divination figure, Luba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 7 1/8
123 is the cutest lot in the auction, a Luba female divination figure
from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is 7 1/8 inches
high and has a haughty stance. It has a modest estimate of
$6,000 to $9,000. It
sold foir $18,750.
Lot 149, male
figure of Chibinda Ilunga, Chokwe, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 22
1/2 inches high
149 is an impressive Chokwe male figure of Chibinda Ilunga from the
Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is 22 1/2 inches high.
It has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $118,750.
"Djennenke Hermaphrodite Figure, Pre-Dogon People, Mali, circa
11th-14th Century, 18 7/8 inches high
5 is a Djenneke Hermaphrodite Figure, Pre-Dogon People, Mali.
It is dated circa 11th-14th Century and is 18 7/8 inches
high. It was once with Charles Ratton of Paris.
It has an estimate of $400,000 to $4600,000. It sold for $1,565,000.
45, Guro female figure from the Ivory Coast, 33 inches high
45 is an impressive Guro female figure from the Ivory Coast that is 33
inches high. The statue's exaggerated forms with thrusting
shoulders are balanced with its fine head and dangling hair piece.
It has a modest estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $35,000.
47, Senufo or Bamana male figure from Mali, 13 1/4 inches
smaller but even more impressive work is Lot 47, a Senufo or Bamana
male figure from Mali that is 13 1/4 inches high. The pose
and craftsmanship is quite distinctive with crested coiffure and very
muscular arms and stylized legs. It has a modest estimate of
$35,000 to $45,000. It
sold for $161,000.
Lot 44, "Bete
Male Figure," Ivory Coast, 29 1/2 inches high
44 is a good Bete male figure from the Ivory Coast. It is 29
1/2 inches high. it has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $149,000.
Lot 41, Mask
by the Bron-Guro Master, Guro, Ivory Coast, 30 3/4 inches high
41 is a double-face mask surmounted by a full-figure standing statue
and is a masterpiece by the recently discovered Bron-Guro Master of the
Ivory Coast. It is 30 3/4 inches high. It has an
estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $701,000.
Maternity Group, Baule, Ivory Coast, 18 3/4 inches high
40 is a Baule maternity group from the Ivory Coast that was once in the
collection of Merton D. Simpson of New York. It is 18 3/4
inches high. It has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It failed to sell.
63, Mumuye male figure, Nigeria, 29 1/2 inches high
63 is a classic Mumuye male figure from Nigeria that is 29 1/2 inches
high and was formerly in the collections of Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr. of
Detroit and Robert Mapplethorpe of New York. It has a modest
estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It
sold for $149,000.
Lot 26, Mende
helmet mask by the Master of Nguabu, Sierra Leone, 15 1/2 inches high
26 is a very handsome Mende helmet mask with elaborate coiffure and
numerous large medallions by the Master of Nguabu in Sierra Leone.
It is 15 1/2 inches high. The catalogue entry
quotes Willima C. Siegmann of Brooklyn as having noted that there are
more than two dozen works by the artist including two examples that
entered the collection of the British Museum in 1943. The lot
has an estaimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $35,000.
Lot 24, Power
Figure, Kissi, Liberia, 18 1/2 inches high
Lot 24 is a very impressive
Kissi power figure from Liberia that is 18 1/2 inches high.
Small stone figures are encased in wood figures that are
bound in cloth. This one has a very beautiful face and
coiffure, accented by hanging bells. It has a modest estimate
of $30,000 to $50,000. It
sold for $60,000.
Lot 17, mask,
Dan, Ivory Coast or Liberia, 9 1/2 inches high
17 is a ferocious-looking Dan mask with high cheek bones and an open
mouth from the Ivory Coast or Liberia with large triangular openings
for eyes. It is 9 1/2 inches high. It was once in
the colllection of John J. Klejman of New York. It has an
estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $26,250.
95, Maternity group, Kongo-Yombe, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 11
95 is a small Kongo-Yombe maternity group from Democratic Republic of
the Congo. It is 11 inches high. It was once in the
collection of Robert Rubin and has been very widely published.
It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $3,525,000.