A Mexican-Lebanese businessman may face criminal charges after setting fire to a $10 million Frida Kahlo sketch, “transformed to live forever in the digital realm,” as part of a stunt to sell NFTs.
Martin Mobarak, 57, burned the 1944 watercolor, crayon, pencil and ink drawing ‘Fantasmones Siniestros’ or ‘Massive Sinister Ghosts’.
The Miami-based entrepreneur, who made his fortune during the Dot Com boom in the early 1990s, threw a smashing party at his home to celebrate the launch of Frida.NFT.
Amid models strolling down a makeshift poolside catwalk, Mobarak, surrounded by heavily armed security and wearing a blazer with Kahlo’s face in sequins, ceremoniously removed the outline from a gold frame.
He then put it in a martini glass and lit it.
Martin Mobarak, a 57-year-old Mexican-Lebanese businessman, held a party at his Miami home in July where he burned a sketch of Frida Kahlo (pictured) in a martini glass
The sketch, made in 1944, is titled ‘Fantasmones Siniestros’, or ‘Massive Sinister Ghosts’
Mobarak now faces possible criminal charges for the stunt
“I had to do something drastic to get attention,” he said The New York Times on Tuesday.
He planned to sell 10,000 NFTs for $4,000, but only four have been sold so far, the paper reported, for less than $11,200.
Mobarak, however, cheered, explain: “Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, this collection of 10,000 NFTs represents the rebirth and immortality of a timeless piece.”
Still, art experts and the Mexican government were less amused.
On September 26, Mexican heritage authorities announced that they had opened a criminal investigation into Mobarak’s actions, which could mean he could face a 10-year prison term and a fine equal to the cost of the artwork.
The Mexican National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature (INBAL) is investigating whether he committed a federal crime by destroying an original Kahlo artwork — or whether he actually burned a counterfeit.
Burning a counterfeit would also get Mobarak in trouble as he sold NFTs of the drawing and insists it was real.
“If he actually burned it, he’s breaking one law,” said Leila Amineddoleh, a lawyer who specializes in art and cultural heritage law.
The sketch is a watercolor, with pencil, ink and chalk. It was valued at $10 million
“And if he didn’t, if it was a reproduction, he would have infringed copyright.
“And if he copied the original with the intent to mislead, it could be fraud.”
Gregorio Luke, a former Mexican diplomat and former director of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, California, added, “I think this man should go to jail.”
The real sketch was sold to a foundation in 2004 by Mary-Anne Martin, a renowned Latin American art dealer, and again to a private collector in 2013.
Mobarak told The Miami Heraldhe bought the drawing from a private collector in 2015 and insists the one he burned was real.
He said he gave back some of the proceeds from NFT sales to charities.
“If Frida Kahlo were alive today, I’d bet my life that if I asked to burn a small piece of her diary to give kids a smile and a better quality of life, she’d say, ‘Go ahead. and do it. I’ll light the fire,” he claimed.
Mobarak made his money in the Dot Com boom of the 1990s and now lives in Miami and works in Bitcoin and NFTs
Artworks by Kahlo, who died in 1954 at the age of 47, are considered national treasures.
In 1984 INBAL officially designated Kahlo’s oeuvre as an ‘artistic monument’.
“In Mexico, the deliberate destruction of an artistic monument is a crime within the meaning of the Federal Law on Archaeological, Artistic and Historic Monuments and Zones,” INBAL said in a statement.
The Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico City, also condemned the stunt, pointing out that they own the rights to all works by Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera, and had not authorized the creation of an NFT.
The trust that owns all of her works regularly takes legal action against the use of her likeness and artwork.
‘[The museum] does not agree with any intention of supporting the museum that arises from the alleged destruction of our country’s cultural heritage, as well as the existence of ties to the collector and its activities,” the museum said in a statement.
Mobarak, who was asked by The New York Times whether the burning was a mistake, was noncommittal.
“I like to say I don’t regret it,” he said.
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