On Tuesday evening, Park Avenue Autumn, a restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that varies its name and menu seasonally, unveiled the new work Spoils, an art/food hybrid by artist Michael Rakowitz. In collaboration with the Chicago-based artist, who is of Iraqi descent and whose work often involves the art and cuisine of that country, house chef Kevin Lasko, who has previously worked at Mercer Kitchen and Montrachet in New York, developed a venison entrée using Iraqi date paste.
Long Iraq’s number two export (second only to oil), the date is for Rakowitz a symbol of the country’s tragedies. The number of date palms has plummeted from some 30 million before the Iran-Iraq War to a tenth of that number today. The dish is served on dinnerware acquired via eBay that was looted from the palaces of Saddam Hussein and is emblazoned with either the insignia of the House of Saddam, the Ba’ath Party logo, or a crown, which denotes dishes used by King Faisal II al Hashimi, assassinated in 1958 at age 23. Whether this increases the dish’s sweetness or bitterness will depend on the diner’s palate. The artist joked with A.i.A. about the online availability of looted Saddam-era items: “it’s a regular Bed, Ba’ath and Beyond.”
The project, organized by Creative Time, furthers several of Rakowitz’s interests. He has worked with the public art agency before on a date-related project; in 2006, Return revived his grandfather’s import-export company, Davisons & Co., as a temporary store importing Iraqi dates. In his ongoing project Enemy Kitchen, a collaboration with his mother, he teaches Iraqi recipes to schoolchildren as a way to foster conversation about war. And for a 2007 show at Lombard-Freid Projects, “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist,” Rakowitz created mock-ups of still-missing items looted from National Museum of Iraq after the fall of Saddam.
Available through Nov. 26, Spoils is the last of four seasonal artist-chef collaborations at the restaurant, which began last winter with Marina Abramovic’s Volcano Flambé, followed by Paul Ramírez Jonas’s Plus One in the spring and Janine Antoni’s In & On in the summer. Reservations are recommended, and can be made at the restaurant’s website.