Twenty years ago, Swiss Surrealist and concept designer H.R. Giger (1940–2014) bought the Château St. Germain, part of a 13th-century castle complex perched at the summit of the quaint village of Gruyères. A year later, in 1998, the Academy Award winner quietly opened the Museum H.R. Giger, a newly renovated permanent home for the polymath’s best-known works. Outside is a backdrop of Swiss traditionalism: cobbled streets, conventional restaurants, and tourist-friendly chocolate and cheese stores; inside is a panoply of sculptures, paintings, furniture, and film memorabilia showcasing the artist’s dark, often terrifyingly necromantic vision, ridden with skulls, cyborg demonesses, robots, penises, vaginas, babies dressed as soldiers, babies shaped like penises dressed as soldiers, and Baphomet, the goat-headed occult deity.
Born in 1940 in Chur to a family of pharmacists, Hans Rudolf Giger was initially trained in architecture and industrial design, but his fascination for the surreal and the occult guided his career. Though he is best known for designing the eponymous monster in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), as well as for the original version of Dune (1973), his distinct artwork and illustration, heavily influenced by anatomy, erotica, and the occult, has garnered him notoriety in the worlds of illustration, film, and production design (check out his video for Deborah Harry's 1981 single “Now I Know You Know,” which Giger directed). It was his collection of paintings, “The Necronomicon” (1977), which is filled with occult symbols and detailed renderings of human orifices, that originally inspired Scott’s nightmarish extra-terrestrial (for which Giger took home the Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 1980).
While his personal artwork as well as his instantly recognizable early character models fill the museum, across the street in the Giger Bar — a cavernous space resplendent with vaulting ribs and vertebrae — the artist’s macabre, hyper-sexual, and bio-mechanical world truly comes alive. Giger spaces have previously opened in Tokyo and Chur — not to mention a bar at the legendary New York club Limelight — but it is in the Gruyères space that his inclinations in architecture and interior design are fully realized: a grid of screaming infant heads lines one of its walls; meticulously detailed tables sit on rubber-paneled flooring engraved with his signature biomechanics patterns; paintings depicting an amalgam of body parts and dubious machines hang against black felt walls, backlit by yellow light; and a massive skeletal structure covers the vaulted ceiling. It’s like stepping into a fascinating and disturbingly tenebrous netherworld — which, in Giger’s book, feels like paradise.