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

Release date 
Thursday, August 3, 2017

SAN JOSÉ, California (October 10, 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.


The Propeller Group will speak in conversation with Lauren Dickens, curator, at the San José Museum of Art on Thursday, October 26, 2017, at 7 PM. The opening reception of their self-titled exhibition, The Propeller Group, will follow at 8 PM. The Propeller Group, on view through March 2018, is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, and the Phoenix Art Museum. Creative Minds is SJMA’s ongoing lecture series. Tickets are $12 ($6 for Museum members) and will include the following opening reception. Tickets are available at /event/creative-minds-propeller-group.


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 of video, installation, and sculptural works that represent the scope of the group’s artistic practice. In conjunction with the exhibition, The Propeller Group and internationally acclaimed muralist El Mac will also create a new public mural in the streets of San José.


“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 newsreels, 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 red wood) 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. SJMA’s exhibition will include several related objects, in which the imagination of the future is projected onto objects of the past. 



The mural is a collaborative undertaking by the San José Museum of Art, The Propeller Group, El Mac, award-winning children’s author and artist Christopher Myers, Empire 7 Studios, and the Children’s Discovery Museum. Monumental in scale, the new permanent public mural will feature a single portrait of a young refugee. The Propeller Group has created public murals around the world as part of its ongoing project Vietnam: The World Tour (VNTWT). Previous iterations have been presented in Saigon, Kabul, Singapore, Brisbane, Los Angeles, Paris, Lyon, and Amsterdam. The mural will bring a larger-than-life face of a refugee youth to a highly-visible wall of the Children’s Discovery Museum in downtown San José. The wall faces a city park and is visible from the freeway. It is the product of extensive and ongoing work by the collaborating artists. SJMA launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the mural project. Additional information is available at



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. Tour the exhibition with Lauren Schell Dickens, curator, for a Gallery Talk on Thursday, November 9, at 12:30 PM.


The accompanying catalogue includes “Three Californias,” an image essay contributed by Matt Lucero with contributions 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). Their 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. 


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 – 17. Members and children ages 6 and under are admitted free. For more information, call 408-271-6840 or visit www.SanJosé

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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. 

Updated on Tuesday, October 10, 2017.