Shkreli, Paddle 8, and The Wu-Tang Clan

Stephen L Kanaval |

During the Martin Shkreli mess that transpired last week, the story that was the most infuriating about Shkreli had nothing to do with pharmaceuticals at all. It had to do with a Wu-Tang Clan album.

Using the internet auction site Paddle8, Shkreli paid a reported $2 million for the only copy of the Wu-Tang album, “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.”The auction house as well as the rap group wanted to keep the sale silent, but Shkreli had to boast. When the public learned that he was the owner of the one album, fans asked if he had listened to it yet and he responded that it was not a priority. Though, he added, he might be persuaded to pop it in if Taylor Swift wanted to come over.

Shkreli’s infamy added to the mystique and artifact-like fame of the one album. However, it was Paddle8 that built the renaissance-style marketing to the public. The exclusive album comes in an engraved silver box with an inner jewel case lining along with a certificate of authenticity. In a world where music streaming has all but minimized and devalued an artist’s hold on their work, this album was intended to be private like a Monet or Renoir in the home of a wealthy collector. Shkreli spoiled the high luster of this vision, but the auction house that made this possible is worthy of attention.

Paddle8’s ultimate vision is to disrupt and democratize the art world through the internet. Currently on the website, you can bid on Picasso, Warhol, Joan Miro, Jeff Koons, and artists still in school at Hunter College. Any member to the site can bid on these pieces and start a world-class collection of their own or buy one-of-a-kind pieces that are down-market like you would see on Etsy or EBay. However, Paddle8’s real value is in the back end of art transactions and services. They offer one-time insurance for shipping art purchased on the site and act as a middle-man between galleries who are selling and purchasers and collectors. They charge a cheaper commission fee and rarely have to hold the art on their premises.

Founder Collective and Mousse Partners, two venture capital firms that bet on niche disruptors like Uber, invested $4 million in Paddle8 and since then the auction house has formed relationships with usually territorial museums and luxury galleries. It’s no surprise if you researched the founders. Alexander Gilkes is a former LVMH executive and Aditya Judka is a biotech entrepreneur. At this point, Paddle8 is the most stylish dashboard and storefront for beginner and experienced art buyers (who can download virtual private room to bid in an even more exclusive showcase), and they can no longer be ignored.

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