Having seen Alien at a young age and becoming absolutely mesmerized by it, H.R. Giger was the first artist that really grabbed my attention. Those who know me well know that I can't even draw a decent stick figure to save my life, but I tried to create my own alien-like designs in grade school, with very little success. Not long after, I gave up any hope of matching what he created, and looking back at a recent trip to his museum in Switzerland, I realize now, more than ever, that there will never be another artist like H.R. Giger.
You might expect to find the H.R. Giger Museum in the center of a metropolitan area or an industrial surrounding, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Instead, it's tucked away in Gruyères, Switzerland, a town that dates back to the middle ages with a castle that has been standing since the 1200s.
The town of Gruyères sits on the top of a tall hill and I imagine that hundreds of people every week visit the surrounding area, not knowing that the H.R. Giger Museum is only minutes away. Gruyères has a rich history, with old, but well-maintained buildings, great food, and friendly people. Had the museum not existed here, I still would have found it a very memorable trip and it's somewhere I plan to return.
You can't get into Gruyères by car, so forget GPS taking you directly to the museum. Instead, keep an eye out for a small, but noticeable "MUSEUM HR GIGER" sign to let you know that you're headed in the right direction. Once you get closer, you can't miss it, as a number of statues, including his famous "Birth Machine" babies, are there to greet you outside.
The museum is split into two experiences—there's the official museum that houses the bulk of Giger's work and then there's the Giger Bar, which is like taking a step into one of his paintings. I purposely didn't do much digging into the museum online before my visit, so, similar to taking a tour of the TARDIS from Doctor Who, I was really surprised how much larger the museum is on the inside. Instead of the smaller gallery I was expecting, there were three floors of the Swiss surrealist's work, taking us on a journey of his career over the decades.
Original pieces that inspired the Alien creature design are on display, along with artwork and sculptures created specifically for the movie. What really surprised me, however, was how much he cared for his Alien 3 Xenomorph. While he's worked on quite a few movies, such as Species and Poltergeist II, and there's plenty of work from them as well, there was quite a focus on his Alien 3 sketches. It's a shame it was so heavily modified for use in the movie, as I'd love to see someone bring the complete vision of his new Xenomorph design to life.
Many people will be visiting due to his work on Alien, and there's plenty for you to enjoy, but make sure to take the time to look at his pre and post-Alien work, as he's so much more than the creator of the Xenomorph. Decades of original artwork on display make it easier to see Giger's versatility as an artist, both in the focus of his art, as well as the medium. Most of my exposure to Giger's work has been online and I can say that the online scans absolutely do not do the pieces justice, and anyone seeing them in person are in for an incredible treat. Aside from the larger scale of the paintings showing off much more detail, there's an incredible level of depth and color variation that cannot be appreciated unless you're seeing them in person. His sculptures are also a sight to be seen, such as the Harkonnen table and chairs he created for Dune, or the rarely-seen train from the unfortunately canceled Dead Reckoning.
After spending an hour or two at the museum, I spent another couple of hours at the Giger Bar. Thankfully, it wasn't too crowded that day, so I had a chance to sit at the bar in one of Giger's huge Harkonnen chairs, relax with a wall of Giger's signature babies behind me, and really take in the one-of-a-kind architecture. The bar has a pretty extensive drink menu, including H.R. Giger absinthe, and it's known, surprisingly enough, for its meringues if you're looking for a snack. I was sad to leave the Giger Bar, as I needed to be at my next stop later that day, but also thankful that the bar is in another country, as this bar would become my new home.
The H.R. Giger Museum is a must-stop spot for anyone that lives within driving distance or is planning a trip to Europe. I could talk about my visit to Gruyères for hours, but it's best if you experience it for yourself. As a lifelong H.R. Giger fan, this gave me even more appreciation for his boundary-breaking vision.
Check out some photos below and learn more about the H.R. Giger Museum and bar at: http://www.hrgigermuseum.com/