The Sole Copy of Wu-Tang Clan's 'Once Upon a Time in Shaolin' Is Heading to Mona for Ten Days in June

Records don't get much rarer than the hip hop collective's seventh album — and you'll also be able to listen to a 30-minute mix from it at the Tasmanian gallery.
Sarah Ward
Published on May 28, 2024

If you're curating an exhibition about big names and what gives them that status, here's one that ain't nuthing ta f' wit: Wu-Tang Clan and their Once Upon a Time in Shaolin album. Almost no one has heard the record, but everyone should've heard of it. Only one physical copy was ever created, with the physical masters then deleted. The CD was sold — twice now — under the strict stipulation from RZA and company that it cannot be commercially exploited for 88 years.

That condition means that the 2015 release can't be made available to the public en masse in any form until 2103. But trust Tasmania's Museum of Old and New Art to do what it can to give fans a Once Upon a Time in Shaolin experience. During its gap year from Dark Mofo, Mona will get its hands on the album for ten days, put it on display for visitors to peer at and hold a select number of listening parties — eight in total, two daily across two four-day weekends — that feature a 30-minute mix from the record.

Not only do albums not get much rarer than the hip hop collective's seventh studio record, but chances to get a glimpse of it and hear some of it don't, either. When it hits Namedropping, the site's exhibition about status, perception and trying to look good for others, Mona will become the first museum to receive Once Upon a Time in Shaolin on loan since the album was first sold.

While the overall showcase, which spans 200-plus artistic works, will fill Mona for the better part of a year — from Saturday, June 15, 2024–Monday, April 21, 2025 — Wu-Tang Clan's record will only feature from Saturday, June 15–Monday, June 24, 2024. To see the two-CD release, you'll need to make a date with the exhibition. To hear that curated half-hour selection, you'll need one of the limited free tickets to listening event Namedropping the Wu-Tang Clan, where the mix will play in Mona's Frying Pan recording studio off of a personalised Wu-Tang PlayStation 1.

"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," explains Mona Director of Curatorial Affairs Jarrod Rawlins.

"Ten 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'," added digital art collective Pleasr, which now owns the record.

"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 RZA's vision for Once Upon a Time in Shaolin".

Amid an exhibition that's set to drop names such as Ai Weiwei, Vincent Namatjira, Jacqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Marie Antoinette, J Robert Oppenheimer, Pablo Picasso, Sigmund Freud, Charles Dickens, Andy Warhol and Hello Kitty — and also Victor Hugo, Greg Chappell, Heath Ledger, Jimi Hendrix, Alan Turing, Ned Kelly, Thomas Edison, John Lennon, William Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Chopper Read, Alexander the Great, Queen Elizabeth II, Romance Was Born and Vincent van Gogh, among a heap more — another big Namedropping drawcard is the original handwritten lyrics for David Bowie's 'Starman', which Mona owner David Walsh purchased in 2022.

'I like David Bowie. If you like Bowie, it's a pretty good bet you'll like Mona. That's why we namedrop," said Walsh.

"So why might this rendition of only the lyrics (after all, it's the performance that made it famous) be worth the £40,000 that the auction house estimated? Well, it makes the point about Namedropping, so it has come in handy for this exhibition."

Jesse Hunniford. Image courtesy of the artists and Mona, Tasmania, Australia.

Once Upon a Time in Shaolin will be on display at Namedropping at Mona, 655 Main Road, Berriedale, from Saturday, June 15–Monday, June 24, 2024. Namedropping the Wu-Tang Clan will run twice daily Friday–Monday across the same dates — and free tickets for the listening parties are available from 10am AEDT on Thursday, May 30.

Namedropping displays at Mona from Saturday, June 15, 2024–Monday, April 21, 2025. Head to the Mona website for more details.

Images: courtesy of the artist, Pleasr and the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona).

Published on May 28, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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