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MANOLIS PROJECTS: making art history in Miami

Critically acclaimed abstract expressionist painter, art historian, and art world philanthropist J. Steven Manolis offers a unique behind-the-scenes view of a working studio + gallery.

images courtesy of Manolis Projects

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." This proverbial phrase is the very essence of optimism, reminding us that with a positive attitude, most any adversity can be overcome.

Here's an interesting (and aptly-named) parallel: Lemon City, a neighborhood on the shores of Biscayne Bay that predates the City of Miami itself, once existed as a farming community populated with lemon groves. It was established by black pioneers at the turn of the 20th century, but by 1920 - due to a drastic demographic shift -Lemon City all but disappeared from the map when Little Haiti emerged its place. Though one might presume it was a "sour" turn of events for the early Bahamian settlers at the time, how proud they would be today of the culturally vibrant place it has since become, and especially, of what J. Steven Manolis - a critically acclaimed abstract expressionist artist, prolific art historian, philanthropist, and curator - is doing with a facility that once existed as a lemon processing and distribution center back in the day.

J. Steven Manolis poses before his Black & White (Graphic), 2020, acrylic and enamel on latex on canvas.

Manolis Projects is Florida's largest working studio and fine art gallery. Focusing on modern masters and contemporary art, it showcases collectible limited-edition works from over 40 artists around the world. "Miami is in the process of moving North from the Design District and Wynwood, and now this is the happening area in the world of art," says Manolis, whose aim is to bridge the gap between established and emerging artists and collectors.

To that end, visitors of the gallery will be thrilled to find pieces from Banksy - the wildly popular anonymous British street artist whose collectors include celebrities like Justin Beiber, Serena Williams, Angelina Jolie, and Damien Hirst - and French street artist Thierry Guetta, who, under his moniker Mr. Brainwash brilliantly and fearlessly pushes the envelope of contemporary art - displayed alongside those by legends such as Spanish artist Salvador Dalí, American pop artist Robert Rauschenberg, and celebrated sculptor Dale Chihuly.

Mr. Brainwash's Legend Forever, 2016, serigraph hand-finished in spray paint on paper

Lemurs, 1986, oil on canvas by Hunt Slolem, the acclaimed colorist and figurative painter of whose work Manolis is an avid collector.

Shift, 2018, ink on canvas by Margaret Neill, an Ohio native and Brooklyn-based gestural contemporary abstract artist

In a Red Space, 1992, oil on linen by Wolf Kahn, renowned German-American colorist artist and Manolis' beloved friend. "It is with profound sadness that I announce that Wolf Kahn passed away peacefully on Sunday, March 15, 2020. I met Wolf Kahn in 1980. This was the beginning of our 40-year friendship. He was my best and most respected lifetime friend. He was my mentor and art teacher," wrote Manolis in a recent essay.

Pleasure! (Spring Break), acrylic, oil stick, collage, and diamond dust by Jojo Anavim, whose work employs bold color palettes, found items, and advertisements the in-demand NYC-based visual artist has been collecting since his childhood. Anavim is recognized for his commissions for NBA players including Amar’e Stoudemire, chart-topping recording artist Selena Gomez, and actor/comedian Seth McFarlane.

In early 2016 when Manolis initially took over the property, he used it strictly for painting and displaying his own work. "But then I invited friends, because it's a very big space," he says. And by friends, the once Chairman of the Advisory Board for the National Academy of Design in New York City references the esteemed American sculptor Miles Slater, and South Florida's own Bruce Helander, the renowned art critic, arts writer, curator, and artist.

Bruce Helander's Macy's Mickey Mouse, ca. 1934 (purple & green), 2019, acrylic embellished with glitter and spray paint on canvas

Manolis Projects recently made art history with a stellar group show - an astounding 93 works by 38 collected, established, and burgeoning global artists - which featured "MR. FREAK & LUCY," marking the Miami debut of Buenos Aires superstar Fernanda Lavera, who has been touted by critics as "the next Jean-Michel Basquiat."

Fernanda Lavera's Juego Solitario II (Solitary Game II), 2019, acrylic on canvas

Lavera's "Lucy" (2020), acrylic on canvas

Fernanda Lavera with legendary music producer and art collector Clive Davis (left), and Greg Schriefer (right), who now represents Lavera after discovering her work on the streets of Argentina.

photo credit: Martin Medina WorldRedEye

Bruce Helander

photo credit: Martin Medina WorldRedEye

Celebrity Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto poses with Didier Audrat's TALIMA (Yves Klein Blue), 2018, mixed polymer sculpture

photo credit: Martin Medina WorldRedEye

Manolis Projects is a family affair, as Steven, along with his wife Myrthia Moore and her sons Jason and Brian, hosts the East Coast’s only artists’ salon where artists come together to exchange ideas and inspire one another. The Manolis studio-gallery also arranges private commissions and offers special curation services for collectors, architects, and interior designers.

While lemon trees and groves no longer grow in Lemon City, it exists today as a thriving hub of entertainment, exotic food, and with the addition of Manolis Projects, some seriously important art. And that, friends, is some refreshing lemonade you won't want to miss!

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