SJMA to Present Major Exhibition of Work by The Propeller Group this Fall

Release date 
Thursday, August 3, 2017

SAN JOSÉ, California (August 3, 2017)— The San José Museum of Art will present a major exhibition devoted to the internationally acclaimed art collective The Propeller Group, October 27, 2017 – March 25, 2018. Based in Vietnam, the collective (Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Phunam, and Matt Lucero) anchors its ambitious projects in Vietnam’s history and its paradoxical present while addressing global phenomena, from street culture to international commerce to traditions shared across cultures.

Organized by the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and the Phoenix Art Museum, The Propeller Group is the first major survey exhibition dedicated to the collective. The exhibition brings together a number of multi-part projects from the past five years, comprising video, installation, and sculptural works that represent the scope of the group’s artistic practice.

“In multifaceted projects, The Propeller Group blurs the lines between modes of cultural production and embraces the formats of branding campaigns, television commercials, Hollywood movies, and music videos to address the complex ideologies that drive global commerce, war, cultural ritual, and historical memory,” said Lauren Dickens, curator at SJMA.

Among the highlights of the exhibition is The Living Need Light, the Dead Need Music (2014), a film that follows funerary traditions of the Mekong Delta. It combines documentary footage, staged reenactments, and fantastical scenes to explore slippages between real and imagined rituals shared across cultures. It will be paired with accompanying sculptures inspired by traditional Vietnamese funerary objects: a carved jackfruit wood snake with gold fangs and an adorned water buffalo skull.

Also on view will be AK-47 vs M16 (2015–2016), a multi-part mixed media work that includes a film, a video, works on paper, and accompanying objects. The project references the two weapons popularly associated with opposing sides of the Cold War. Working with ballistics experts in a lab, the artists fired the weapons at each other into translucent blocks composed of a dense gel used for ballistics testing. A related film assembles clips from news reels, Hollywood films, YouTube, and other sources to illustrate how these weapons came to be indelibly intertwined with the Cold War in the popular imagination.

The San José Museum of Art’s presentation of the exhibition will include additional works not seen at previous venues, such as the 2016 sculpture Antique Earth Satellite. Carved from jackfruit wood and found tracwood (a type of Vietnamese rosewood) the intricate sculpture combines a traditional Vietnamese carving method with a futuristic subject matter drawn from science fiction. Collective member Phunam was trained in the restoration of Vietnamese and Khmer antiquities, and SJMA’s exhibition will include several related objects, in which the imagination of the future is projected onto objects of the past. 

In conjunction with the exhibition and in partnership with Empire Seven Studios in San José, The Propeller Group and internationally acclaimed graffiti writer El Mac will create a new public mural in the streets of San José.



The Museum plans a variety of public programs in conjunction with the exhibition, beginning with a Creative Minds lecture by the artists, on Thursday, October 26, at 7 PM, followed by an opening reception.

The accompanying catalogue includes “Three Californias,” an image essay by the artists, as well as writings by Naomi Beckwith, Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Cesar Garcia, curator, writer, and founding director of The Mistake Room in Los Angeles; and Claudia Schmuckli, curator-in-charge, contemporary art and programming at Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (formerly director and chief curator at Blaffer Art Museum).



The Propeller Group was founded in 2006 and consists of members Matt Lucero (born 1976, Upland, California), Tuan Andrew Nguyen (born 1976, Saigon), and Phunam (born 1974, Saigon). Its work has been featured in the Goteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, Sweden; the 56th Venice Biennale; Prospect.3: Notes for Now,  International Contemporary Biennial, New Orleans; No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Unseen: Guangzhou Triennial, Guangdong Museum of Art, China; Six Lines of Flight, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Made in LA, Los Angeles Biennial, Hammer Museum; and The Ungovernables, New Museum, New York.  Recent solo projects include A Universe of Collisions at Grand Arts, Kansas City, Missouri, and The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. 

In addition to their work as a collective, the members are involved in various individual artistic pursuits. Phunam was trained in the restoration of Khmer and Vietnamese stone and bronze antique sculptures. Phunam is also a self-taught cinematographer who has produced television commercials, music videos, documentaries, short films, and television dramas. Lucero received his MFA from the California Institute of Art and has exhibited throughout the United States, including the California Biennial. Nguyen also received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts and is one of the founders of San Art, a perennially-persecuted artist-run space and reading room in Saigon. His work is currently featured in the Whitney Biennial.

The exhibition has been organized by Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and Phoenix Art Museum.

The Propeller Group is made possible in part by a grant from the Asian Cultural Council to advance international understanding through cultural exchange in the arts, and by generous support from the Richard A. Karp Charitable Foundation, Tad and Jackson Freese, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Thang Do and Grace Liu, and Dr. Jerrold Hiura and Lucia Cha.



The San José Museum of Art celebrates new ideas, stimulates creativity, and inspires connection with every visit. Welcoming and thought-provoking, the Museum rejects stuffiness and delights visitors with its surprising and playful perspective on the art and artists of our time. SJMA is located at 110 South Market Street in downtown San José, California. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 AM to 5 PM and until 8 PM or later on the third Thursday of each month. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for students, and $5 for youth ages 7 -18. Members and children ages 6 and under are admitted free. For more information, call 408-271-6840 or visit

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Programs at the San José Museum of Art are made possible by generous support from The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, Yvonne and Mike Nevens, The Lipman Family Foundation, and a Cultural Affairs Grant from the City of San José.