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Even though Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were killed more than 20 years ago, just last year The People v. O.J. Simpson won an Emmy and O.J.: Made in America won an Oscar, further proof that the public’s appetite for the 1995 murder trial of O.J. Simpson knows no bounds. In July, the onetime NFL champ was granted parole after serving nine years of a nine- to 33-year sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping; his future plans will surely be a subject of hot media interest.
Meanwhile, some of his past is on view at the O.J. Simpson Pop-up Museum at Coagula Gallery in L.A.’s Chinatown, on exhibit through Aug. 22.
“They got a Lizzie Borden Museum in Fall River, Massachusetts. They have 10 JFK museums in Dallas. They got the Jack the Ripper tour in London. It’s big business,” curator Adam Papagan tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Most of the collection belongs to him, including board games like OJopoly, original artwork, a white Bronco like the one Simpson drove, relics from the court case, videos and memorabilia, not to mention roughly 80 O.J. T-shirts, the world’s largest collection courtesy of collector Martin Hugo.
Hardcore collectors won’t find much more than the kinds of items available on e-Bay, which is where Papagan procured most of the museum pieces, paying as much as $40 for a board game. “I don’t buy anything expensive,” he confides. “This is junk.”
Artist Ricardo Cisneros might take exception to that. His satirical painting of O.J. as a glove model is just one of several pieces of art done on open call. “When I found the opportunity to do something for the show, I wanted to basically question his cult status and how the media took charge of making him famous for something so brutal.”
Conductor of the O.J. Tour of landmarks connected to the case, Papagan also co-hosts a podcast, Juicing The People v. O.J. Simpson. You could say O.J. was clearly his destiny when, as a 6-year-old leaving school in Brentwood, he and his mother came upon the crime scene. “We’re driving out on Bundy, past Nicole’s house, and we’re seeing all the ambulances and the news trucks starting to arrive. And I see a sheet on the ground in the front, which would have been Ron Goldman,” he recalls. “We get home, turned on the TV and the story is just breaking. And my mom’s like, ‘Oh my God, that’s right by your school. We were just there!”
Because commerce plays such a prominent role in the public’s response to the case, The O.J. Pop-up Museum includes a gift shop with (what else) T-shirts for sale, and the perfect opportunity for a selfie right next to the Heisman winner’s mug shot.
“[The exhibit] has a lot to do with the media as entertainment. The trial was one of the first reality TV moments,” observes Hugo, whose birthday happens to fall on the anniversary of the murders. “If this happened today, we would have Yelp reviews on the Mezzaluna Restaurant and Ron Goldman’s Instagram.”
Adds Papagan, “That’s part of it but there’s the racial side of it. It has so many things in it that are so American — sports, celebrities, money, the legal system, beautiful women, Hollywood.” When the show closes next week, Hugo will fold his T-shirts and put them back into Tupperware for storage. Papagan will try to figure out a way to combine The O.J. Pop-up Museum with his L.A. tour. He’s even thinking of replacing his car with the white Bronco.
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