Minneapolisl, Minn. — Myron Kunin is not modest when it comes to talking about art.
"The truth is I have a very good eye," says Kunin. "I know what grabs your heart and mine as well and I go by that and I buy the things that are stunners. I try to."
Many years ago Kunin took his parents' hair salon chain and made some very shrewd business decisions, which paid off handsomely. Kunin is the founder of the Regis Corporation, a multi-billion-dollar enterprise and the world's largest company in the salon industry.
"And my job became," says Kunin, "especially after I ceased to be that active in the management of the company, I had the nice job of trying to decorate the place. I mean it gave me a lot of blank walls that I could do what I wanted with and part of my function was to make it look good."
Kunin proceeded to decorate the nine-story Regis Corporation with approximately 400 works of art. He focused primarily on American paintings of the first half of the 20th century, including works by Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O'Keeffe, Stuart Davis, Grant Wood and Marsden Hartley.
Eighty-five of the most important pieces are now part of an exhibition that opens Sunday at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and runs through February.
Sue Canterbury, the associate curator of paintings and modern sculpture at the MIA, says Myron Kunin has been a longtime friend of the museum - he's now a lifelong trustee - and has on several occasions loaned or donated paintings, or helped the museum to secure other pieces of art. She says he's a shrewd collector.
"It's really great," says Canterbury, "that someone with a great eye and a love of collecting and I like to say the chase - to chase after really wonderful works of art - actually has the means with which they can support their habit."
Canterbury says Kunin does what museums should do - judge a work of art on its own merit, not on its price tag. As a result he's found some great gems at great prices. She says the Villa America exhibition focuses on paintings that emerged from a tumultuous period in American history: two world wars, a flu pandemic, and a flood of immigrants arriving from Europe.
"It's very much about trans-Atlantic exchange between contemporary European trends of the early 20th century and American artistic trends," says Canterbury. "The result of their collision and what artists made of this on both sides of the Atlantic."
Canterbury says in Villa America you can watch artists as they pull away from the Ash Can school of stark realism and go head-to-head with post impressionism, French cubism, German expressionism, and futurism. She says the result is a new, truly American style.
"This exhibition really captures this sort of struggle for identity," says Canterbury, "and also the struggle to get release from the old academic approaches, becoming free in one's use of color and freer in one's notion of what the purpose of art is."
Canterbury says within the Twin Cities there is no other collection of American Modern Art of this caliber. She says the exhibition gives the public a unique opportunity.
"This really offers people a chance to see some really key works from a very significant collection but also a collection that has been put together by a Minneapolis native over the past thirty years," says Canterbury. "It gives them a chance to experience collecting through this person's eyes, and so it's a very highly personal collection but it's really of wonderful quality."
Myron Kunin admits his art collection is an all consuming passion that occupies him every moment of the day. He just bought two more paintings.