Wu-Tang Clan Album, Among the World’s Rarest, Heads to Museum


The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) on the Australian island of Tasmania is gearing up to present one of the rarest and most expensive music albums in the world — the Wu-Tang Clan’s single-edition Once Upon a Time in Shaolin (2015). Produced by Wu-Tang affiliate Cilvaringz alongside the group’s front-runner RZA, the exclusive album was intended to reclassify music as a work of collectible fine art, especially in the modern age of streaming, downloads, and online piracy.

Emerging from its ornate silver box, the two-CD album has been condensed into a 30-minute listening experience for the public to enjoy on a ticketed basis from June 15 to June 24 as an excerpt of MONA’s forthcoming Namedropping exhibition.

After a contentious release announcement that led to infighting within the rap group and its fanbase, the album was auctioned off for a record-breaking $2 million in 2015 to none other than the former “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli, once and probably still known as “the most hated man in America” for having marked up the price of a critical medication for AIDS patients from less than $20 a dose to $750. The six-figure price tag put the album as the most expensive album ever sold. A legal agreement mandated that the album could not be commercially exploited or released to the public until 2103, 88 years after its initial sale.

With no digital masters in existence, the album exists only on two CDs protected by an ornate nickel-silver box. (photo by Jon Lynn, courtesy Pleasr and the Museum of Old and New Art)

However, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin landed in the hands of the United States government in 2018, when Shkreli was arrested and eventually sentenced to seven years of imprisonment on top of being ordered to forfeit over $7 million in assets for security fraud and conspiracy. The album was eventually sold to digital artist and NFT acquisition collective Pleasr in 2021 for $4 million.

Given its unusual ownership history, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin ending up on loan in Tasmania of all places seems even more erratic, but it aligns perfectly with the premise of Namedropping, an exhibition about the “nature of status.”

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,” MONA’s Director of Curatorial Affairs Jarrod Rawlins said in a statement.

Pleasr welcomed the collaboration with MONA, noting that putting the album in an art museum realizes the Wu-Tang Clan’s ambition of creating a living piece of art through a single-edition album.



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