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Miami Millionaire Investigated After Burning a 10 Million Frida Kahlo Drawing as a Publicity Stunt

NFT mogul and Miami-based millionaire Martin Mobarak is being investigated after burning what appears to be an authentic piece by Frida Kahlo that was valued at $10 million. The Mexican government opened the investigation after a video of Mobarak burning the drawing surfaced in late August. 

According to Al Día, Mobarak acquired the painting from a private collector in 2015 and recently burned it to formally announce the launch of 10,000 minted NFTs (Non-fungible tokens or digital copies) that will be available for purchase. The piece, titled “Fantasmones Siniestros” (“Sinister Ghosts”), is a drawing from one of Kahlo’s diaries and was estimated to have been created sometime between 1944 and 1954.

Mobarak is launching the digital version through Frida.NFT, a virtual marketplace where buyers can purchase an officially minted digital copy of the now-destroyed work of art. 

The website claims that Kahlo’s drawing has “permanently transitioned into the metaverse,” per the New York Post, while Mobarak insists that the destruction of “Fantasmones Siniestros” served a much larger purpose.

“I hope that everyone here can understand it. I hope everyone can see the positive side,” he said on the video. Mobarak then removed the drawing from its frame and lit it ablaze inside a martini glass full of gasoline. A small crowd of people featured in the video is heard clapping as the picture goes up in flames.

Mobarak has made it clear that the artwork was not destroyed in vain and that sales of the NFT would directly benefit Mexico’s Palace of Fine Art, as well as a number of charities that provide medical services to children. “What we are going to do is change the lives of thousands of children,” he said.

As of this publishing, the Palace of Fine Art has confirmed that no donations from Mobarak or the Frida.NFT project has been received.

The NFTs are currently priced at 3 ETH, or approximately $4,000 USD, reports The Art Newspaper. Kahlo originally gifted the piece to a Venezuelan art critic named Juan Röhl. It eventually ended up in the hands of Mary-Anne Martin, who sold it once in 2004 to the Vergel Foundation before selling it again to a private collector in 2013.

“The whole thing is creepy,” said Martin, who is one of the world’s foremost Latin American art dealers, according to Vice. She claims she had never heard of Mobarak, nor was she involved in selling him the piece. 

Mobarak further justified his decision to burn the drawing explaining that even though it may seem to many that he destroyed the artwork, he didn’t. “This way, I am bringing it to the world. I am letting everybody see it. I think it does more good for the world and makes a statement rather than just sitting in someone’s private collection.” 

Mobarak is not the only one burning art for the purposes of minting NFTs. According to the Daily Mail, acclaimed artist Damian Hirst sold 10,000 of his own paintings and gave their new owners one year to decide if they wanted to keep the original or mint it as an NFT. 4,581 opted to go with the NFT and Hirst is now burning all of the original artwork that is set to be digitally minted.

A University College Dublin professor named Paul Dylan-Ellis, who currently studies the growing cryptocurrency market, told Vice that stunts like this “should at least attempt to say something interesting about art or the medium of art,” and noted that Mobarak’s burning of Kahlo’s piece was not an example of that idea.

According to the New York Post piece, Mobarak is now being investigated by the Mexican government for potentially breaking a law against the “deliberate destruction of an artistic monument” which “constitutes a crime in terms of the federal law on archaeological, artistic and historical monuments and zones,” Mexico’s National Institute of Fine Arts confirmed in a statement released on Monday.

“All the necessary information is currently being collected in order to establish with certainty that it was the destruction of an original work or a reproduction,” the statement concluded, as Mobarak’s company plans to acquire and burn other significant pieces of art for the purposes of minting them as NFTs.

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