The Propeller Group

  • A cloudy sky with muted colors is reflected across a distant horizon line onto an expansive and still body of shallow water. To the left, 10 uniformed figures playing instruments march away in ankle-deep water. They are doubled by their reflections in the water.

    The Propeller Group
    Still from The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, 2014
    Single channel film
    21 minutes
    Courtesy of the artists and James Cohan Gallery, New York.

  • JKA photography

  • JKA photography

  • JKA photography

  • The Propeller Group
    Antique Earth Satellite, 2016
    Tracwood and jackfruit wood
    207 × 50 × 40 inches
    Courtesy of the artists and James Cohan Gallery, New York.

  • JKA photography

    The Propeller Group anchors its ambitious projects in Vietnam’s history and its paradoxical present. Based in Vietnam and Los Angeles, the art collective extends its reach to address global phenomena, from street culture to international commerce to traditions shared across cultures. 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 explore the complex ideologies that drive global commerce, war, and cultural and historical memory. One highlight of the exhibition is The Living Need Light, the Dead Need Music (2014), a visually lush 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. The film is accompanied by sculptures inspired by traditional Vietnamese funerary objects: a carved jackfruit wood snake with gold fangs and an adorned water buffalo skull.

    The group members—Matt Lucero (b. 1976, California), Tuan Andrew Nguyen (b. 1976, Vietnam), and Phunam (b. 1974, Vietnam)—developed their social consciousness as art students during the 1990s. They were influenced not only by academic theory but also by Hollywood films and the cultural controversies that defined the decade. Consistent with this background, the collective uses its work to propose new mythologies that combat dominant narratives: it challenges perceptions of Vietnam held in the American imagination and explores the relationships between memory, history, and the present.

    This first major survey dedicated to the collective brings together multipart projects from the past five years, comprising video, installation, and sculptural works that represent the scope of the group’s artistic practice. In collaboration with internationally acclaimed graffiti writer El Mac and local artists, The Propeller Group presents Sophie Holding the World Together, a new public mural in downtown San José.

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


    Fall Arts Preview: 69 Exhibits, Films, Dance Festivals, Musicals, Plays, Lit Events + More Bay Area Performances, 7x7
    September 11, 2017

    The Propeller Group Brings an Artistic View of Vietnam to San Jose, KQED Arts
    January 3, 2018

    Is It an Art Collective or a Vietnamese Ad Agency? Yes and Yes, The New York Times
    February 23, 2018

    Itinerary, Sculpture Magazine
    March, 2018


    The Propeller Group is made possible by generous support from the Richard A. Karp Charitable Foundation, Tad and Jackson Freese, the Asian Cultural Council, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Additional support is provided by Lucia Cha and Dr. Jerrold Hiura, Grace Liu and Thang Do, Ian Reinhard, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.