A Mexican-American businessman’s decision to burn a valuable Frida Kahlo artwork to promote 10,000 non-fungible tokens (NFTs) he created from it has sparked controversy and caught the eye of Mexican authorities.
Martin Mobarak, CEO and founder of Frida.NFT, destroyed Kahlo’s untitled work, known as Fantasmones siniestros, by setting it on fire at an extravagant event in Miami in July.
The piece – which was taken from the Mexican artist’s diary and had been valued at more than US $10 million, according to the Frida.NFT website – had already been digitalized in the form of 10,000 NFTs – records on a blockchain that are associated with digital or physical assets, according to Wikipedia.
The Frida.NFT website says “the painting was permanently transitioned into the metaverse on July 30th, 2022.”
Video footage of the controversial burning of the Kahlo drawing in Miami in July.
Recientemente en Miami, Martín Mobarack quemó una pintura de la artista Frida Kahlo para hacer 10,000 NFT’s, desde ARTE CAPITAL reprobamos y nos ponemos a este tipo de atentados al patrimonio artístico de México. #QuemaronaFrida #artecontemporaneo #patrimonioartístico #fridakahlo pic.twitter.com/mUWpA4hbs1
— Arte Capital (@Arte_Capital) September 21, 2022
Each Fantasmones siniestros NFT costs three Ethereum – a cryptocurrency worth about US $1,300 at midday Wednesday.
“Display a piece of history in your home. A limited 10,000 NFTs will circulate as the only authentic connection to the masterpiece Fantasmones siniestros by Frida Kahlo,” says a message on the Frida.NFT website, which also has a video of the artwork being burned and a link to a certificate of authenticity.
“… The holders will all receive the highest-resolution, PNG format of the front and back of the art piece. They will also receive a write-up explaining the story around the piece, and a copy of the certificate of authenticity.”
The website also says that a portion of the proceeds of NFT sales will go to a range of organizations including the Autism Society and Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), an asset of the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature (INBAL).
However, the institute rejected that claim in a statement published Tuesday and noted that Kahlo’s entire oeuvre is considered an “artistic monument” in accordance with the Federal Law on Archaeological, Artistic and Historic Monuments and Areas.
“In Mexico the deliberate destruction of an artistic monument constitutes a crime in terms of” that law, INBAL said.
It said that “all the necessary information is currently being gathered” in order to “establish with certainty” that the artwork destroyed by Mobarak was in fact an original work and not a copy he “used for commercial purposes.”
INBAL also said that it “hasn’t issued authorization for reproduction” of Fantasmones siniestros. The Associated Press reported that INBAL’s authorization “would be necessary” for the creation of NFTs from the artwork.
Numerous social media users condemned the burning of the piece, whose reverse side features the words Cromóforo (chromophore) and Auxocromo (Auxochrome), which Kahlo used as nicknames for herself and husband Diego Rivera.
“Just watched some rich asshole burn a Frida Kahlo painting in order to ‘convert’ it to an NFT and I think I may be a communist now,” wrote one Twitter user the day after Fantasmones siniestros was destroyed.
“A man (a multimillionaire as a relevant fact) has decided to burn a Frida Kahlo work to make NFTs from it and sell them. His excuse? All the benefits will be for children in need. I’m very tired of [Mexican] heritage being played with in this way,” said another Twitter user.
Hilda Trujillo, a Frida Kahlo art expert, told the newspaper Excélsior that the artwork is not as valuable as Mobarak claims because it’s just “a page torn out of [Frida’s] diary.”
She proposed a chemical analysis of the ashes of the artwork “to see if it’s an original work.”
“The ashes can be compared with the paper of Frida’s diary, which is in the Casa Azul,” Trujillo said, referring to the Frida Kahlo Museum in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacán. “It would be interesting.”
Issued by Andrés Siegel, the authentication certificate says the artwork was completed circa 1945 and “would have been located between page 42 and 43 of the diary according to [art historian] Luis Martin Lozano’s study of this work.”
“It is to my best opinion and knowledge after having reviewed the piece to the best of my ability through ocular means that this work corresponds to the characteristics in style and materials used by Frida Kahlo in her diary housed in La Casa Azul in Coyoacán, Mexico,” wrote Siegel, described by Frida NFT as a “top Frida Kahlo curator.”
Mobarak – who said in an interview that he grew up near the Casa Azul (formerly the home of Kahlo and Rivera) – reportedly purchased the artwork in 2015 from Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art in New York. Domiciled in The Bahamas, Frida.NFT purports to create “the bridge between the traditional art world and the expanding potential of Web 3.0.”
“This community-driven initiative has a vision to introduce Frida’s work into the metaverse and leverage her powerful likeness to bring together a community of collectors, creators and art lovers on a mission to merge the traditional art world with the digital art world’s expanding potential and immortalize humanity’s story,” the website says.
It also says that Mobarak is committed to charitable causes, including the provision of support for “parents of children with debilitating diseases.”
The NFT creator, the website asserts, is an “art alchemist transforming physical art into digital gold” and a “wearer of many hats, … a public speaker, an accomplished businessman, and a passionate advocate for charities that improve children’s health.”