Since its inception in late 2010, the Los Angeles gallery Dem Passwords has run an exciting program connecting the worlds of counterculture and contemporary art. It has also moved locations four times. Its initial West Hollywood space gave way to a Culver City enclave, while more recently it took up residence in a Chinatown rental next to an abandoned theater. For its latest move, however, the gallery is leaving Los Angeles entirely, choosing to set up camp in the Upper Ojai Valley, a rural community in Ventura County, California, where Ethan Higbee—who runs the gallery alongside Sebastian Demian—owns a plot of land. The first exhibition will be of a large outdoor sculpture by the artist Matt Barton, opening July 1.
“We always wanted to engage Matt Barton as the first artist to create on the property because of how he’s using mysticism and new age themes in his artwork, and there’s that energy there in the Ojai Valley,” Demian told me this week over the phone from Los Angeles. Indeed, the broader Ojai Valley area has been a hotspot for things like spiritual retreats and organic farming for quite some time now—in 2015, the New York Times called the town of Ojai itself a “hippie hideaway.” Within this larger context, Barton will create a wooden “tower dome” based on a structure that he has been working off of for many years, the first of which was constructed with sapling branches. Demian called it a “kind of hive, it looks almost like a pine cone.”
The mixture of art and music presented at Dem Passwords has at times felt peerless. It represents the work of the iconoclastic musician and artist Lee “Scratch” Perry and it has shown both contemporary artists (Rachel Lord, known for her collaborations with Ryan Trecartin) and comic legends (Ron Rege). And, if that wasn’t enough, it also throws concerts that range from harsh noise to contemporary rap: the iconic rapper Riff Raff once performed inside of one of Barton’s installations (as mentioned in my 2015 ARTnews piece on the gallery) on a bill with James Ferraro, Naomi Elizabeth, and Extreme Animals (of the Paper Rad art collective).
Although Demian said that a move back to Los Angeles isn’t out of the question, he is excited by the possibilities of their new, remote location, which he sees potentially evolving into a sculpture garden of sorts. “This is a long term play. A way to bring it back home,” Demian said, noting that with the new space, the gallery is looking to do something that is “fun and a bit removed from this keyed-up system.” He also noted that he is “happy to not be under the thumb of a landlord.”