Some say Myron Kunin never met a business he didn’t like. Others insist he never saw a piece of art he didn’t like. Both are understatements.
Kunin built the Regis hair salon empire from his parents’ chain of department store barbershops and also built a renowned American art collection, as well as donating to museums, galleries and universities throughout the United States.
Kunin died Wednesday in Minneapolis from pneumonia after battling leukemia for nearly a year, his family announced. He was 85.
Kunin turned his parents’ 15-store operation into a public company with $2.7 billion in annual revenue and thousands of stores, both company-owned and franchised, in the U.S., France and Britain. The businesses are run under various brand names, including Supercuts.
Born in Minneapolis on Sept. 29, 1928, and known as Mike, Kunin graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1949. His father, who was trained as a barber in his native Russia, started a chain of barbershops in downtown department stores in 1922. Kunin bought a controlling interest in the family business, called it Regis, and began expanding to shopping malls as the suburbs boomed in the late 1950s and ‘60s.
He also amassed a substantial art collection best known for its early 20th century American paintings by artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Stuart Davis and Andrew Wyeth.
“His collection of that 1900-1945 period rivals that of the Whitney Museum of American Art,” said Elizabeth Armstrong, curator of contemporary art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and a longtime friend. Kunin’s gifts to her museum include 230 paintings, drawings and other works.
In 2005, the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach displayed a sampling of Kunin’s modernist art.
Kunin, who had no formal art education, explained in an interview with The Times that year how he assembled the collection filled with what the reporter described as “powerful images with seething emotions, strong color and high contrast.”
“I like a painting that reaches in and grabs your heart and stomps on it,” he said, “a painting that you cannot not have, if you can afford it. So I try to do that.”
His business background gave him the means and the tactical sharpness to pursue his passion for art.
“I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a deal maker,” he told The Times in 2005. “Every painting you buy is a deal.... It became a whole way of life for me that was fascinating.”
He transferred the art collection to a privately held company, Curtis Galleries, in 1991 when Regis went public. In 2008, he left the company’s board.
Along with other businesses, Kunin owned TV and radio stations in the Upper Midwest and invested in St. Paul real estate.
Besides his wife of 62 years, Anita, Kunin is survived by sons David, Tim, Andrew and Bill; his sister Diana Lewis; and seven grandchildren.