Thursday, June 13, 2024
Thursday June 13, 2024
Thursday June 13, 2024

The world’s rarest album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, to be displayed in Australia



Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art hosts exclusive listening parties for the Wu-Tang Clan’s unique record

An album so rare and valuable that only a few ears have ever listened to it is set to go on display at an Australian gallery, giving the public a taste of the uber-exclusive tracks.

Housed in an ornate silver box, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, recorded in secret by the Wu-Tang Clan over six years, was designed to be a piece of fine art. Only a single CD copy exists. The record by the pioneering hip-hop group is the most expensive ever sold and has now been loaned to Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona).

Over ten days in June, Mona will host small listening parties where members of the public can hear a curated, 30-minute sample of the album. The album is part of its Namedropping exhibition, which examines status, notoriety, and “the human pursuit.”

Mona Director of Curatorial Affairs Jarrod Rawlins remarked, “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 I knew I had to get it into this exhibition.”

Recorded in New York City and produced in Marrakesh between 2006 and 2013, the album includes the nine surviving members of the group and features pop artist Cher and Game of Thrones actress Carice Van Houten.

The group felt the value of music had been cheapened by online streaming and piracy, and wanted to take “a 400-year-old Renaissance-style approach to music, offering it as a commissioned commodity.” The album includes a hand-carved nickel box, a leather-bound manuscript containing lyrics, and a certificate of authenticity, with a legal condition that the owner cannot release the 31 tracks for 88 years. Producer RZA likened it to a Picasso artwork or an ancient Egyptian artifact.

“It’s a unique original rather than a master copy of an album,” he said when the album went on sale in 2015. As a result, only a handful of people on the planet have heard snippets of the 31 tracks. A group of potential buyers and media heard a 13-minute section in 2015, and disgraced drug firm executive Martin Shkreli, who bought the album for $2 million, streamed clips of the music on YouTube to celebrate Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory.

Shkreli was later forced to hand it over to US prosecutors in 2018 after being convicted of defrauding investors, and it was then sold to digital art collective Pleasr. In a statement, Pleasr said the Mona listening parties, which will run between 15 and 24 June, helped realize the group’s “bold vision to make a single copy album as a work of fine art.”

The album’s journey to Australia marks a significant moment in the art and music world, blending hip-hop culture with fine art. The exhibition at Mona will offer a rare glimpse into the exclusive project, attracting both art enthusiasts and hip-hop fans. The Namedropping exhibition aims to challenge conventional perceptions of value and prestige, highlighting how certain objects and works of art can attain near-mythical status.

For Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art, securing the album for display demonstrates the institution’s commitment to showcasing unique and thought-provoking works. The album’s presence in the exhibition underscores the museum’s reputation for curating unconventional and groundbreaking art pieces.

The inclusion of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin in the Namedropping exhibition will likely spark discussions about the nature of art, the commodification of music, and the intersection of cultural and artistic value. As visitors attend the listening parties, they will experience not just the music but the broader cultural statement made by the Wu-Tang Clan.

Analysis :

The display of Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin at Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) carries significant cultural and socio-economic implications. From a political perspective, the album’s journey reflects broader themes of intellectual property rights and the commodification of art. The album’s legal restrictions and unique sale conditions challenge traditional notions of music ownership and distribution, questioning how art can be protected and valued in the digital age.

Sociologically, the album’s exclusivity and the listening parties highlight issues of access and elitism in the art and music worlds. By limiting the album to a single physical copy and orchestrating controlled listening events, the Wu-Tang Clan emphasizes the scarcity and uniqueness of their work. This approach contrasts sharply with the democratizing trends of music streaming and digital access, raising questions about who gets to experience art and under what conditions.

Economically, the album’s high sale price and subsequent ownership by a digital art collective illustrate the intersection of art and commerce. The $2 million sale to Martin Shkreli and the later acquisition by Pleasr demonstrate how art objects can become valuable commodities and investment assets. This trend reflects broader economic patterns where unique and rare items attract significant financial interest, transforming art into high-stakes economic ventures.

Locally, the exhibition at Mona provides a cultural boost to Tasmania, attracting international attention and visitors. The museum’s ability to secure such a high-profile exhibit enhances its status as a leading institution in contemporary art, contributing to the local economy through tourism and cultural engagement.

From a gender perspective, the inclusion of artists like Cher and Carice Van Houten in the album adds layers of diversity and collaboration, showcasing the blending of different artistic disciplines and backgrounds. This collaboration highlights the album’s eclectic nature and its departure from traditional hip-hop productions, incorporating broader cultural influences.

Race and minority perspectives also play a crucial role in understanding the album’s significance. The Wu-Tang Clan, as a pioneering group in hip-hop, represents a critical voice in the African American cultural landscape. Their decision to create an album as a singular art piece speaks to their ongoing efforts to challenge and redefine the music industry’s norms, asserting the artistic and economic value of hip-hop within the broader art world.

In conclusion, the exhibition of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin at Mona serves as a multifaceted event that intersects art, economics, and cultural discourse. It invites audiences to reflect on the value of art, the impact of exclusivity, and the dynamic interplay between different cultural spheres.


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