O.J. Simpson museum turns morbid merchandise into art

A pop-up museum in Los Angeles is putting on display just how low society sank in its fascination and monetization of O.J. Simpson's murder trial and eventual acquittal.

L.A. pop-up features murder trivia boardgames, phone cards, T-shirts to showcase callous culture during trial

A pop-up museum in L.A. open until Aug. 22 examines a variety of artwork and merchandise inspired by O.J. Simpson and his infamous murder trial. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

A pop-up museum in Los Angeles is trying to show just how low society sank in its fascination with O.J. Simpson's murder trial — and the writing's on the wall.

The exhibit, open to the public this weekend, showcases items from board games to souvenir T-shirts which were sold around the time of Simpson's infamous car chase, murder trial and eventual acquittal in 1995.

"I'd never really seen anything that kind of put together the fan culture that surrounded O.J., both positive and negative," said Adam Papagan, who spent years collecting the merchandise and is the curator. "We wanted to do something that showcased that side of the story."

Curator and collector Adam Papagan sets up the many items on display, which were gathered over several years, purchased online or borrowed for the exhibit. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

Papagan, born and raised in Los Angeles in a community not far from where the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were discovered, says he always had a fascination with the trial and public reaction to it.

"Even from age six, it was that this is a unbelievable event. It is very strange and out of the ordinary and people don't know what to make of it."

Boardgames, lottery tickets, wall of T-shirts

The museum includes hundreds of weird, quirky and at times, disturbing paraphernalia designed to make visitors think about just how far people went to monetize the worldwide fascination with the case.

Among them, a "Squeeze the Juice" boardgame, in which the object is to drain Simpson of his financial resources as part of his legal defence team. The "lawyer" who gouges him the most wins.

An O.J. Simpson pop-up museum in L.A. is featuring items, many of them distasteful, which were marketed and sold to capitalize on the fascination and popularity of the murder trial. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

There's also a special set of Pogs, a milk caps game popular in the 1990s, with the faces of Simpson, Brown and Goldman on them. Pogs were geared toward children.

This photo shows various collector items involving references to Simpson and his murder victims: Pogs with the faces of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, a card with Simpson's football stats and a photo card showing a scene from the infamous car chase on an L.A. freeway. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

Simpson-related lottery tickets, phone cards and even a variation of Monopoly called "OJopoly" are also on display.

One wall of the exhibit is covered with dozens of trial-related T-shirts, collected by Papagan's collaborator, Martin Hugo.

"I think this is a perfect example of the public feeling, this urge to communicate their opinions on a news event," said Hugo. "It's advertising what you think about this murder trial."

One wall of the exhibit is covered with close to 80 T-shirts related to the verdict, which were sold during the trial. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

Making a buck, making a statement

There has been renewed interest in Simpson since the former football star was granted parole in July after serving almost nine years in a Nevada prison for a Las Vegas hotel heist. He's set to be released in October.

Visitors to the museum said the collection took them right back to the days of the trial.

"I followed it daily," said Darren Kennedy. "If I had to work, I recorded it."

"There was such a public response," said Kenneth Marks. "A bunch of people made this stuff, the T-shirts, the games. Were they trying to cash in or were they just trying to make a statement about society?"

Darren Kennedy was one of the first visitors at the pop-up, saying he was glued to the TV during the 1994-95 trial. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

'Art comes from a place of response and reaction'

Recent films, including the Oscar-winning documentary O.J.: Made in America and the Emmy-winning miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, have examined the racial divide promulgated by the trial and the voyeuristic, round-the-clock coverage which seemed to leave the victims and their families as an afterthought.

"There is no way to escape the fact that two people were brutally and hideously murdered in a wealthy suburb," said Lisa Derrick, who works at the downtown L.A. gallery housing the exhibit.

"And from that comes these reactions of shock and horror. And how do we deal with horror a lot of times? With very sick humour. Art comes from a place of response and reaction."

Reaction wan't limited to the exhibit's walls. People were quick to snap photos of a white Ford Bronco parked at the entrance — the same make and model as the one used in Simpson's 1994 televised car chase.

Kenneth Marks and Rita Safie pose for a selfie in front of a white Ford Bronco parked at the museum's entrance, similar in make and model to the one used in Simpson's 1994 televised car chase. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

Papagan purchased the vehicle partly through crowd-funding and is considering using it for his day job: giving tours in the city related to the murders and trial.

"Just because something is upsetting doesn't mean that it's not worth talking about and exploring," he said.