The O.J. Simpson case was an entirely new kind of phenomenon. Millions watched it unfold, from the low-speed chase through Los Angeles, to the Dream Team’s antics in front of Judge Lance Ito, to the devastating loss for prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden as the jury read the not-guilty verdict. Los Angeles native Adam Papagan – then still in elementary school in Westwood, nearby the murder scene in Brentwood – remembers the effect it was having on his neighborhood. “I just remember this omnipresence about it,” he says. It seemed like it went on forever.”
The case stayed with him – he ended up working for a tour company that chronicles the murder for fascinated visitors. “I started [working on] the O.J. tour, so I kind of have become a de-facto expert on O.J.,” he explains. “[The case] was just a very mysterious thing. As a kid it was like, ‘who is this guy, and why is everyone going crazy about this? It seemed like it went on forever: going home watching the news and then Brentwood would be on. It was very surreal.” Now, he’s turned that fascination into a pop-up museum in Los Angeles.
Papagan discovered that while there was a plethora of artifacts from when Simpson’s time as a sports superstar, there was an equal or greater amount of memorabilia from the trial. That’s what spurred Papagan’s idea for The O.J. Simpson Museum, a pop-up at the Coagula Curatorial Gallery in Los Angeles. He had been planning the exhibit since before Simpson’s July parole hearing but the project began to take shape in June when he started an IndieGogo campaign. “Once O.J. was granted his parole, it seemed like interest spiked up in this [case] again,” he says.
Papagan found his vision for the museum in the sensationalization of the trial. From bootleg t-shirts and board games, artwork and pocket-knives, Papagan combined owned and donated paraphernalia to craft the exhibit. While he maintains he’s not a hardcore collector, Papagan is still searching for the item that initially began his stockpile two years ago. “The thing I’m most trying to find is an O.J. Halloween costume that was an O.J. mask, a Bills jersey, and a knife,” he says. To Papagan, all of the items are bizarre, but the Halloween costume is perhaps the strangest. “It’s something that was produced to be literally worn one night, Halloween 1995, and then thrown out,” Papagan adds. “It’s like the most ephemeral piece of ephemera.”
While some could criticize Papagan for glorifying a murderer with his museum, he stands by his curatorial debut. “Some people say, ‘Oh God, O.J., this is in poor taste,’ [but] they’re kind of missing the point,” he says. “Just because something is upsetting, or something is taboo, doesn’t mean that it’s not worthy of artistic or academic exploration.” And while he does acknowledge that a lot of these objects were distasteful to make, he says they deserve to be seen. “I’m fascinated by the phenomenon the case created, and I’m interested in the effect it had, and continues to have, on society,” he explains.”This is something obviously that a lot of people even 20 years on still feel like they have a personal connection to.”
Before the exhibit ends and its items are packed away, Rolling Stone reached out to Papagan about some of the most curious items in the collection.