This weekend, the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington opens an exhibition of work by the oldest informal artist collective in the Philadelphia region.
Assemblage is a group of artists — now numbering 17 — who have been supporting one another for 32 years.
It started the way most collectives start: after graduating from art school, artists realize they no longer have that institutional support system – the camaraderie, constructive criticism, and creative uplift to keep on striving.
In 1985, Rosalind Bloom graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and, facing the uncertain art career ahead, asked her friends if they wanted to meet every month and talk about their work.
“It was a potluck. We would bring food and hang out,” said Bloom. “After 32 years, life happens: whatever can happen, has happened. We’ve been there for each other, to support each other as artists, and as friends.”
There has been a fair amount of turnover in three decades as people move away, drop out of making art, or — in one case — die. There are nine original founding members still involved.
In a cultural region known for its informal artist collectives, Bloom is hard-pressed to identify one that has lasted longer. She said they never wanted to get bogged down with maintaining their own dedicated gallery space, or establishing a formal organizing structure. Nobody has ever paid dues.
In its 32 years, Assemblage has held 16 exhibitions, usually at colleges and art centers. The Delaware Art Museum is the highest-profile venue to date.
The show is self-curated, featured as part of the museum’s community-oriented Outlook series. The work ranges widely in style, content, and material.
“It’s always a challenge,” said Bloom. “In the early years, we didn’t know how it would work. But, honestly, every single time it’s been magnificent. Truly.”
The only commonality among them is they are all women. That is not by design, nor by charter, but by circumstance. They never intended to be a women-only group.
“Even though there are people in the group who were very strongly against the idea of identifying as women artists — we’re not women artists, we’re artists! — nevertheless, we never invited a man in,” said Bloom. “We would discuss it, and drop it. It never happened.”
“Assemblage” will be on display at the Delaware Art Museum through the summer.