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Michael Rakowitz, Beneath the Date Palms, 2019

LOS ANGELES — The Chicago-based artist Michael Rakowitz has been gradually reconstructing the now entirely demolished Palace of Nimrud in Northern Iraq. He most recently built one of the palace’s rooms, titled “Room F,” in the Pan-Pacific Park in West Hollywood, where he hosted a series of dinners on large, patterned mats. It made sense for Rakowitz to site this particular room here, because the nearby Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA) owns one of the majestic ninth-century alabaster reliefs that Western adventurers looted from the Assyrian palace long before Isis dealt it its final blow in 2015. For his project, called Beneath the Date Palms, an extension of his recently closed REDCAT exhibition and part of Los Angeles’s city-funded triennial Current:LA Food, Rakowitz left empty spots on the white walls for looted sculptures, including the LACMA-owned relief.

A number of the artworks that remain depict deities fertilizing date palms, and the dinner Rakowitz held on October 26 heavily featured dates, a fruit famously native to regions of Iraq and widely grown in California. Rakowitz passed around a basket of dates from Thermal, California at the start of the evening, and later, Rolando Martínez of Tacos Tamix served cooked spit-grilled pork slathered in date syrup, while the proprietors of Glendale-based Iraqi restaurant Akkad unveiled a generous spread. As we would have at a neighborhood potluck, we piled our plates high — better to try everything — and ate in the shadow of Rakowitz’s replicated Assyrian reliefs. The artist and his studio crafted these artworks from discarded food packaging, though this detail ultimately seemed less important than the way the mix of cheap materials and obsessive precision made the installation feel like a deliberately modest, sincerely over-the-top tribute to an ancient wonder obliterated by greed and vengeance.

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