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Wednesday 29 May 2024

Wu-Tang Clan meets David Bowie meets Mona


Nothing is too eclectic, too obscure, or too weird, for the team at Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art (Mona).

Namedropping, Mona's latest collection, is said to focus on status and the human pursuit of looking good in the eyes of others, with a piece of very rare music as the centrepiece.

Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is the seventh studio album by the American hip hop ensemble Wu-Tang Clan.

Only one physical copy of the album was created, with no ability to download or stream it digitally. Purchased directly from the Wu-Tang Clan in 2015, it became the most expensive work of music ever sold.

The album was recorded in secret over six years. A single two-CD copy was pressed in 2014 and stored in a secured vault then auctioned through auction house Paddle8 in 2015. A legal agreement with the purchaser stipulated that the album may not be commercially exploited until 2103 (when Wu-Tang Clan will be long forgotten), although it can be played at listening parties.

The winning bidder, Wikipedia assures me, was Martin Shkreli, a pharmaceutical entrepeneur.

In March 2018, after Shkreli's conviction for securities fraud, a federal court seized assets belonging to him, including Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. In July 2021, the US Department of Justice sold it to non-fungible token collectors PleasrDAO for $US4 million to cover Shkreli's debts;

PleasrDAO said they hoped to make it more widely accessible. and so....

For a limited time, visitors can see the album on display, with limited access to public listening events held in Mona’s Frying Pan Studios.

Jarrod Rawlins, director of curatorial affairs at Mona, says: "Every once in a while, an object on this planet possesses mystical properties that transcend its material circumstances. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is more than just an album, so when I was thinking about status, and what a transcendent namedrop could be, I knew I had to get it into this exhibition."

A statement from Pleasr issued by Mona said: "10 years ago, the Wu-Tang Clan had a bold vision to make a single copy album as a work of fine art. To “put it in an art gallery…make music become a living piece like a Mona Lisa or a sceptre from Egypt.

"With this single work of art, the Wu-Tang Clan’s intention was to redefine the meaning of music ownership and value in a world of digital streaming and commodification of music. Pleasr is honoured to partner with Mona to support [de facto Wu-Tang Clan leader] RZA’s vision for Once Upon a Time in Shaolin."

Visitors can experience a curated thirty minute mix from the album, played from a personalised Wu-Tang PlayStation 1 in Mona’s own recording studio -Frying Pan - by attending a listening event.

Namedropping the Wu-Tang Clan will run twice daily, Friday-Monday, between June 15-24. Mona will release a limited number of free tickets for each event.

Music fans will also be able to see original handwritten lyrics to David Bowie’s Starman, showing edits and spelling corrections.

Purchased at auction by David Walsh in 2022, this piece of music history will make its debut at Mona during Namedropping.

Walsh says: ‘I like David Bowie. If you like Bowie, it’s a pretty good bet you’ll like Mona. That’s why we namedrop."

Running from June 15 until April 21, 2025,See the Mona website from 10am AEST on Thursday, May 30, for tickets.


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