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The Myron Kunin Collection of African Art

Sotheby's New York

November 11, 2014


Sale 9225


Senufo Woman

Lot 48, "Senufo Female Statue (deble), Ivory Coast or Burkina Faso, 36 1/4 inches high


By Carter B. Horsley

The 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 York.

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 published.

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 surpassed."

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 twentieth century."

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 statues.

It has an "estimate on request."  

It sold for $12,037,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results published in this article.

The auction total was $41,617,500 with 78.5 percent of the offered lots selling.


Kunins

Myron and Anita Kunin in catalogue photograph

Mr. 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.


Sherbro Female

Lot 31, Sherbo female figure, Sierra Leone, 35 1/2 inches

Lot 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.


Dogon 1


Lot 1, Kneeling Female Figure, Dogon, Mali, 8 1/4 inches high

There 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.


Wing man

Lot 54, Ancestor figure, Chamba, Middle Benue River Valley, Nigeria, 12 1/2 inches high

One 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.


Nose

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.

Power Nail figure

Lot 100, Nail power figure, Kongo-Yombe, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 43 1/2 inches high

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.

Dogon couple


Lot 8, Dogon or Bamana couple, Mali, female is 19 3/4 inches high and male is 18 7/8 inches high

Lot 8 is a very attractive couple, either Dogon or Bamana, from Mali.  The 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.

Baule mask
Lot 32, Baule Portrait Mask of Moya Yanso by Owie Kimou, 14 1/4 inches high

Lot 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.


Fang head

Lot 82, Reliquary head, Fang-Betsi, Gabon, 9 1/8 inches high

Lot 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 $3,637,000.



Luba female


Lot 123, Female divination figure, Luba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 7 1/8 inches high

Lot 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.


Chokwa male

Lot 149, male figure of Chibinda Ilunga, Chokwe, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 22 1/2 inches high

Lot 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.


Djenenke

Lot 5, "Djennenke Hermaphrodite Figure, Pre-Dogon People, Mali, circa 11th-14th Century, 18 7/8 inches high

Lot 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.


Guro female with hair

Lot 45, Guro female figure from the Ivory Coast, 33 inches high

Lot 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.

Senufo female

Lot 47, Senufo or Bamana male figure from Mali, 13 1/4 inches

A 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.


Bete male

Lot 44, "Bete Male Figure," Ivory Coast, 29 1/2 inches high

Lot 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.


Guro mask


Lot 41, Mask by the Bron-Guro Master, Guro, Ivory Coast, 30 3/4 inches high

Lot 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.


Baule maternity


Lot 40, Maternity Group, Baule, Ivory Coast, 18 3/4 inches high

Lot 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.



Mumuye

Lot  63, Mumuye male figure, Nigeria, 29 1/2 inches high

Lot 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.


Woman's head

Lot 26, Mende helmet mask by the Master of Nguabu, Sierra Leone, 15 1/2 inches high

Lot 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.


Mummymummy

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.


Dan mask

Lot 17, mask, Dan, Ivory Coast or Liberia, 9 1/2 inches high

Lot 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.


Maternity Lot 96

Lot 95, Maternity group, Kongo-Yombe, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 11 inches high

Lot 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.




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See The City Review article on the Spring 2012 article on Masterpieces of African Art from the collection of the late Werner Muensterberger at Sotheby's New York

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See The City Review article on the Fall 2008 African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2008 African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbia art auction at Sotheby's

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