Talking fine art and fashion with AJ Girard
How the rising curator is merging art, community and culture
AJ Girard wants you to like fine art.
An independent curator and art educator, Girard eschews the stuffy and sterile ways art is traditionally presented in favor of his own unique approach. “For me, art is a type of freedom, and I want to share that. I want to bring people to spaces and start conversations… The art world is not going to change unless we demand change from it and create space for ourselves,"
His first co-curated show, “Shattered Glass”, made waves for its eclectic mix of artists and experiences all loosely connected with his directive to “Make something with your community in mind”. To hear Girard describe it, “Shattered Glass” was him and his partner asking 40 of his friends to pull something together in the midst of a pandemic, yet this description is a bit of an understatement. After a summer of social reckoning and protest, “Shattered Glass” was a paradigm shift, a platform for artists of color to present to a new and wider audience in a blue-chip gallery and create their own narrative.
His seemingly innate ability to portray art in a new light likely comes from his deep understanding of pop culture and its concurrent subcultures. Coming from a family of sports fanatics and having his own deep interest in fashion and sneakers Girard’s show was equally informed by those mediums as it was by the traditional gallery experience.
The name of the exhibit, “Shattered Glass”, is as much an homage to Michael Jordan’s iconic backboard-breaking dunk and the ensuing sneakers, as it is a reflection on the unrest and protests in the summer of 2020 and the preverbal glass ceiling being shattered by showcasing these artists. Girard grew up idolizing the superstars of the NBA and bore witness to the rise of streetwear, but he will just as quickly talk to you about the design merits of Issey Miyake or the art of Mario Ayala. By creating a space that draws connections between pop culture, activism and fine art, he is attempting to refocus the conversation in a way that can be relatable to people from all different walks of life.
In hindsight, his roles as a curator and educator seem like a natural fit, but Girard is the first to admit it wasn’t always the plan. After graduating from Howard University with a degree in Art History, Girard moved back to LA in an attempt to figure out his next steps. He ended up working two jobs, one in retail at Nike and another as a member of the front-of-house staff at the Broad Museum. While he was interested in both, neither really allowed him to tap into his full potential, so Girard began to mix the two worlds. When he met cool people at Nike, he'd invited them to visit him at the Broad and take them on tours. When he met interesting people at the Broad, he’d send them over to the Nike store and get them kitted with new gear. This cross-pollination of his two interests speaks to one of Girard’s greatest strengths — his ability to connect with people and inspire dialogue about different perspectives. It was these continuous conversations and merging of ideas that slowly gained him standing within the art community and positioned him with the right people to help make “Shattered Glass” a reality.
Recently, Girard has been working tirelessly on new projects including a show in Chicago and a Miami Art Basel edition of “Shattered Glass”, but even so, his number one focus is still his community — staying involved, engaged, and supportive of his peers and never being “above it”.
“To me, my community are the people with likewise perspectives, it’s not as much about race, or culture or style, on paper we can look different as hell, some of my favorite thinkers look nothing like me, but we possess a shared interest— that’s the community I’m striving to help maintain and grow”.