Hidden in plain sight. Daniel Moldoveanu at GROTTO, Berlin
by Xavier Robles de Medina

Daniel Moldoveanu, GROTTO, exhibition view, 2024. Photography: Roman März

Nestled in the modernist landscape of the Hansaviertel, GROTTO, an emerging critical platform for contemporary art in Berlin, is currently presenting its third exhibition, Eloquence! Eloquence ! Eloquence ! by Daniel Moldoveanu. The solo-show is divided into two parts. On the one hand an installation of painting, drawing, video and scenography, featuring characters and iconography from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. On the other, a work of original writing that merges literary analysis, social critique, and personal narrative:

“Firstly, I’d like to disclaim that I’m in the dangerous predicament of oversharing, manifest in tantrums of over-explaining my work, and myself, as though I have to prove to the entire world and everything in it that both are valid and worth making.” [1]

Moldoveanu’s tone, akin to literary works like The Catcher in the Rye, conveys in its self-dramatisation a sense of teenage angst and fragility; like J. D. Salinger doing the voice of Holden Caulfield, or Julia Fox writing her memoir. As I work my way through the essay, the writing takes a more clinical turn: an analysis of Edwin A. Abbott’s novel Flatland, in which Moldoveanu considers the instrumentalization of analogy through the late-19th-century work. Written just twenty years after Lewis Carroll’s famous book, Abbott’s work also contains “figurative revelations of British Victorian society”, as Moldoveanu interprets it in his essay.

Daniel Moldoveanu, Eloquence! Eloquence ! Eloquence !, exhibition view, 2024, GROTTO, Berlin. Photography: Roman März

The text’s focus on Flatland serves as a counterpart, an analogy if you will, to the visual representations of Alice in Wonderland throughout the exhibition. Like Moldoveanu’s practice, I suspect it’s no coincidence that both works exist as much in the world of language as in the world of images. Both engage in a critique of the social structures prevalent in their respective eras and explore themes of authority and entrenched hierarchies, reflecting to some extent a concern with the dynamics of power and its implications within society.

Moldoveanu continues: “At the heart of it [Flatland] is a dual character.” I’m thinking about the role of duality in Moldoveanu’s work too, not just the relationship between word and image, but also between emotion and logic, painting and architecture, stillness and movement, and then the recurring trope of things on top of things. Looking into the GROTTO space from the outside, we see two large paintings supported by a wooden structure that has been installed to cut perpendicularly through the gallery. From where I’m standing, at the entrance, the two paintings completely obscure the back wall, creating two parallel views, one revealed and one hidden. There’s something confrontational about the dual setting: I’m made to think about my own presence in the room. As I enter the wonderful world of Moldoveanu’s Eloquence!, having just read his essay, I think about some parallels between him and me. Like Moldoveanu, I’m an artist who writes, or at least tries to. I’m also gay, and from the periphery. Like him, I’m navigating the German art world as an immigrant, as an ‘other’. We’re somehow on a similar frequency, walking parallel paths, analogous to Flatland and Wonderland in this space that Moldoveanu has created.

Moldoveanu and I were both born in the 90s. An older gay artist friend and role model of mine, who survived the 80s and AIDS, shared a thought with me that I hadn’t fully grasped until recently. He said that for a lot of queer people, death was their coming out. Walking through Moldoveanu’s installation, I’m confronted with the uneasiness of this thought as I discover several references to the lineage of queerness in art scattered like Easter eggs throughout the installation. There are two references to Tom of Finland and a repeated image of gay sex from an ancient Greek plate. 

Daniel Moldoveanu, Untitled (Eric Carle, Tom of Finland), 2024 Pencil on paper in artist’s frame, GROTTO, Berlin

When GROTTO had its first exhibition in January, it wasn’t in this space, but in the neighbouring underground station Hansaplatz. Speaking to Leonie Herweg, the programme’s curator, she paints a picture of the experience and its logistical complexities. Literally underground, the gesture alluded to the modernist ideas that define the area, which she continues to explore in GROTTO’s programme through the personal lens of different artists.

For that first show, Stefan Marx made a public installation of black and white graphic works that covered the banners at Hansaplatz. It’s clear that this is the kind of thing that has little to do with money and a lot to do with intention. It’s the kind of thing that simply wouldn’t have happened without the persistence of Marx, and Herweg, who herself lives in the Hansaviertel. Note that at the time of writing, Herweg is hosting a magazine launch and public reading at the Hansabibliothek, demonstrating a continuity and consistency of vision. It also highlights the larger curatorial framework that Herweg is building for GROTTO’s role in activating the cultural landscape of the Hansaviertel.

Daniel Moldoveanu, Eloquence! Eloquence ! Eloquence !, exhibition view, 2024, GROTTO, Berlin. Photography: Roman März

The diptych of large, velvety, pinkish-violet paintings can be read from a distance as abstract. The right one, slightly more subdued than the left, has a few more subtle strokes of dark, cloudy annunciations, informed by ab-ex motifs that echo through the upper layers. They do something similar to what ‘allover paintings’ do, which is to exploit a kind of uniformity that theoretically mimics photography and emphasises the object-ness of the canvas. On closer inspection, we find layers upon layers of cartoon-like figures, thinly painted with washes and Tipp-ex correction fluid, a common office utensil that I associate with high school and exam grade forgery. There’s something about the texture of the Tipp-ex here that reminds me of batik. Perhaps because Moldoveanu’s use of stencils and the inclusion of graffiti references also create an allusion to printmaking techniques. The repetition of the stencilled characters, jumbled together in a complex mosaic of visual culture and art history is evocative of a ‘Where’s Waldo’ scene. I quickly embark on a game of trying to identify all the characters, ranging from Disney and Studio Ghibli to Ancient Greece and European medieval art, as a kind of landscape of symbols. 

Daniel Moldoveanu, Untitled (flickering frames), 2024, video (55" loop). Edition of 3 + 1 AP

As the diptych acts as a room divider, the back of the paintings is also made visible. Walking around the structure I notice that the canvases are somehow very clean, the kind of clean you only get from an industrial, store-bought canvas. On the other side of the room I discover another painting, much more saturated, and predominantly green, using the same motifs, but suggesting a very different kind of mood, which I would situate somewhere between Keltie Ferris and Mary Heilman. Also on display in this second half of the room are drawings, pencil on paper, that are actually more like collages, traced from existing pictures. The caterpillar from Eric Carle’s children's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar from 1969 is superimposed with an erotic drawing by Tom of Finland. The second overlaps the Mad Hatter with an image by Henry Darger.

There’s a third drawing that merges Tom of Finland with a kind of printed instruction for the bright green painting on the left. Then there’s the television screen on the floor which interpolates three different scenes, one from Alice in Wonderland, a video of a re-enactment of the American Revolutionary Guard, and a stock video of a blooming flower.

Daniel Moldoveanu, Untitled Wallpaper (neon green), 2023. Image courtesy of the artist

Written at a time when slavery had either just been abolished or was being contested around the world, the first publication of Alice’s Adventures coincides with the last year of the American Civil War, which sets the stage for many of the metaphors in Wonderland. One scene that remains vividly in my memory from watching the Disney film as a young child involves the deceptive walrus leading the innocent baby oysters to their doom. The scene hints at themes of exploitation and manipulation. The walrus, with his insatiable hunger, not only symbolises a predator that preys on the vulnerable, but also subtly suggests the dynamics of sexual exploitation. Even as a child, the metaphor resonated with me on a visceral level, highlighting the dangers inherent in power imbalances. What heightens the impact of the scene is the contrast between the walrus and the oysters – in size, ability, age and species. This disparity underlines the vulnerability of the victims and the predatory nature of their exploiter, meticulously drawing out the nuances of exploitation and also the role of enablers in such dynamics. It works as a metaphor for the mechanisms of exploitation more broadly, and still haunts me as an adult precisely because it speaks to something so real. It’s as potent a warning as ever, a kind of fable for the contemporary challenges of manoeuvring, something worse than capitalism that we may not yet have a name for. Reflecting on this as an adult, I can’t help but think of the plethora of sexual predators that have come to light in entertainment and the arts in the years since (oh, hello P. Diddy). 

Alice in Wonderland’s enduring influence and integration into the fabric of pop culture illustrates the power of the idea of Wonderland as a metaphor for the arts, or the entertainment industry, or show business, whether it’s Hollywood or Berlin, I don’t think it’s a stretch to extend that to contemporary art, or whatever it is that Moldoveanu and I are manoeuvring.

[1] Moldoveanu’s written text published on the occasion of his exhibition Eloquence! Eloquence ! Eloquence !, 2024 at GROTTO, Berlin.

Daniel Moldoveanu, Eloquence! Eloquence ! Eloquence !, exhibition view, 2024, GROTTO, Berlin. Photography: Roman März


by Daniel Moldoveanu

07/03 – 24/04/2024

Curated by Leonie Herweg

Bartningallee 5

10557 Berlin