Museum Director Marcelle Giving a Press Preview

Milwaukee Art Museum to Present First Comprehensive Survey of Darrel Ellis’s Innovative and Poignant Work

Posted on September 12th, 2023

Darrel Ellis: Regeneration explores the breadth of Ellis’s pioneering practice merging painting, printmaking, and photography.

Milwaukee, WI – September 12, 2023 – This fall, the Milwaukee Art Museum will present Darrel Ellis: Regeneration, the first major museum exhibition showcasing the breadth of Ellis’s practice, which combined photography, painting, printmaking, and drawing. Through his work, Ellis examined themes including domestic life, selfhood, and stereotypes of Black masculinity and anticipated current artistic interest in appropriation, archive, and personal narrative. Co-organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art and The Bronx Museum of the Arts, this expansive presentation features over 120 works and objects that offer an intimate view into the work and practice of an artist whose life and career were cut short by his death from AIDS-related causes at age 33. Darrel Ellis: Regeneration will be on view in the Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts October 20, 2023–January 14, 2024. 

“Darrel Ellis is a prime example of someone whose work expands the possibilities of contemporary art,” said Marcelle Polednik, Ph.D., Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum.  “This exhibition continues the Museum’s commitment to championing the work of artists who deserve to be recognized for the contributions they have made to the field. As the only Midwest venue for this impactful survey, we are excited to share Ellis’s long under-recognized career with our visitors.”  

Ellis’s work garnered critical acclaim and was featured in more than 20 group exhibitions in New York and Europe, including the 1989 exhibition Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing organized by Nan Goldin at Artists Space. Following Ellis’s untimely death, his work was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s New Photography 8 exhibition in 1992. Since that time, his work has received scarce attention. Bringing a new curatorial perspective to his oeuvre, Darrel Ellis: Regeneration is the first museum-organized monographic exhibition of the artist’s highly original body of work.  

“Ellis created new works from his father’s photographs through darkroom manipulation, reframing—or as the exhibition’s title suggests, regenerating—narratives around family and identity,” said Ariel Pate, Assistant Curator of Photography, at the Milwaukee Art Museum. “This significant exhibition offers an opportunity to look closely at Ellis’s distinctive studio practice and understand how he thoughtfully transformed photographs taken by himself and others to create profoundly deep and personal works.”  

Darrel Ellis: Regeneration is curated by Dr. Antonio Sergio Bessa, chief curator emeritus at The Bronx Museum of the Arts, and Leslie Cozzi, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Additional research for this project was provided by Bronx Museum Curatorial Fellow Kyle Croft. 

Exhibition Highlights include:

  • Self-Portrait after Photograph by Peter Hujar, 1989, a self-portrait by Ellis inspired by a photograph taken by Peter Hujar.  
  • Untitled (Mother, Father, and Laure), 1990, an example of Ellis’s analog photographic experiments re-interpreting his father’s negatives.   
  • Untitled (Katrina Styling Susan’s Hair), ca. 1985–1988, which pays homage to the domestic scenes of 19th-century French painters such as Édouard Vuillard and embodies Ellis’s efforts to reinscribe Black families into the traditions of Western art history.  
  • Untitled (Woman with Leopard Skin), ca. 1988–1991, an experiment with color photography and color film that demonstrates Ellis’s innovative approach and openness to new materials.  


Supporting Sponsors
Joseph Pabst and John Schellinger

Contributing Sponsor
The Cream City Foundation Valentine Fund

Exhibitions in the Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts are sponsored by
Herzfeld Foundation

The Milwaukee Art Museum extends its sincere thanks to the 2023 Visionaries.
Mark and Debbie Attanasio
Donna and Donald Baumgartner
Murph Burke
Joel and Caran Quadracci
Sue and Bud Selig
Jeff and Gail Yabuki and the Yabuki Family Foundation

About Darrel Ellis

Darrel Ellis grew up in the Bronx and graduated from Fashion Industries High School, attended classes at Cooper Union and the School of Visual Arts, and participated in the Whitney Independent Study Program. Throughout his career, Ellis participated in more than 20 group exhibitions in New York and Europe, including the 1989 exhibition Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing organized by Nan Goldin, and the touring exhibition The Surrogate Figure: Intercepted Identities in Contemporary Photography organized by the Center for Photography at Woodstock. His work garnered critical acclaim, and in 1991, a year before his death, he received a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Award. His work was posthumously featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s New Photography 8 exhibition in 1992, and a touring retrospective of Ellis’s work was organized by Allen Frame at Art in General in 1996. While Ellis was an integral member of the downtown New York art scene, it is only now that his work is receiving the depth of study that it truly deserves.

About the Milwaukee Art Museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum is an essential destination for art and architecture and a vital cultural resource that connects visitors to dynamic art experiences and one another. Housed in iconic buildings by Santiago Calatrava, Eero Saarinen, and David Kahler on a 24-acre lakefront campus, the Museum is Wisconsin’s largest art institution and home to both broad and deep collections, with exceptional holdings in American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; conceptual and minimalist art; prints and drawings; European art from the Renaissance through the nineteenth century; photography and new media; modern and contemporary design; folk and self-taught art; and twentieth-century Haitian art. A bold symbol of Milwaukee’s ambition and forward-thinking vision, the Museum is a place for community building, education, and celebration, that fosters creativity and critical discourse for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. For more information, visit

Media Contact

For more information or to request images, please contact:

Cortney Heimerl
Milwaukee Art Museum