The largest collection of works by the Swiss surrealist artist HR Giger is in his museum of science fiction and fantasy art in Gruyères.
The four-century-old Château St Germain in the small wall-enclosed medieval town Gruyères in Fribourg, Switzerland, is the unlikely setting of the HR Gigermuseum. This museum has the largest permanent collection of works by the Swiss surrealist artist H R Giger (1940-2014), who famously created the monsters for the movie Alien (1979) and subsequent Aliens sequels. The museum has sketches, drawings, paintings, models, and statues of his macabre fantasy art, as well as Giger’s private collection of similar works by other artists. Statues outside the museum are popular for photo poses. Museum tickets are available online.
Surrealist and Fantasy Art in the HR Giger Museum
The surrealist works in the Museum HR Giger in Gruyères are displayed on four floors inside the historic St Germain Castle. Most of the art is by Giger but the top floor has his private collection of around 600 works by other artists. Special temporary one-man shows by other artists add further interest.
The museum has the largest permanent collection of works by HR Giger including a large number of paintings (many airbrushed), models of aliens, furniture, drawings, and sketches.
Hans Rudolf Giger (he preferred Hansruedi or simply HR) was born in 1940 in Chur in eastern Switzerland. He trained in architecture and design but is most famous for his surrealist works and fantastic art. His earliest works are mostly drawings and paintings – especially large airbrushed works.
Since the mid-1990s, Giger concentrated on sculptures, a medium he had been active in since the 1960s. He also designed furniture – some can be seen in the museum or in the adjacent Giger Bar – film designs, covers for albums, and computer games.
HR Giger died in 2014 and is buried in the nearby Gruyères cemetery.
Aliens in the HR Giger Museum in Gruyères
Giger is most famous for the design of the aliens for the movie Alien (1978/79). Some of the original models and sketches of the first alien (and for Alien 3) are on display on the first floor of the museum. These include Facesuckers, Chestbursers, and other detailed sketches or paintings of aliens in various stages of development.
HR Giger was part of the team that won the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects in 1980 for the Ridley Scott directed Alien. The Oscar is on display below one of the creaking staircases in the museum.
Other than the aliens, HR Giger’s most famous single work is probably “Birth Machine“ (1967) – a comment on population growth. This painting, which Giger later recreated as a large sculpture outside the museum, shows babies armed with a pistol seated in bullets inside a larger pistol. While the idea is that armed babies are shot out of the gun, Giger had to admit he made a conceptual mistake and that in such set up the head only will be shot out like a bullet while the body remains behind in the bullet casing.
The rest of the museum is filled with a wide range of similar surrealistic or science fiction designs. Even if not particularly interested in the genre, most visitors will be able to appreciate that Giger certainly had artistic talent. The attention to finer details, especially on sketches, is very impressive.
Erotic Art in the HR Giger Museum
Although there is no age restriction on entering the museum, many of the macabre works may be of a disturbing nature to smaller children and squeamish adults as well. Many show bodies in almost dissected profile while many have strong sexual and fetishistic overtones.
A small section is marked for adults only and here the works are even more overtly erotic. Many of the drawings here are actually protests against overly restrictive social norms, bigotry and double standards – the area of Switzerland that Giger heralds from, and even Swiss cities in the 1960s, was very conservative.
Not all the works here are fully explained and it is necessary to read the German text Giger added to the drawings to really understand the points he is making. However, without further or deeper knowledge, these leave one rather suspicious of his elders and other authority figures from his past.
Visiting the HR Giger Museum in Gruyères
The Giger Museum is in the Chateau St Germain at the gate leading from the market area of the old town towards Gruyères Castle. It is adjacent to the HR Giger Museum Bar with Giger-designed Harkonnen furniture and interior giving a rare mystical atmosphere quite different from anything else in this popular medieval day-trip destination.
Opening hours of the HR Giger Museum are:
- November to March: Tuesday to Friday afternoons from 1 to 5 pm and weekends from 10 am to 6 pm. Closed on Mondays.
- April to October: daily from 10 am to 6 pm
Admission is CHF12.50 for adults, CHF8.50 for students and CHF4 for children. Buy tickets online or at the door. Combination tickets with the Château du Gruyères are CHF19. The Swiss Museum Pass is valid.
More Sights in Gruyères
Adjacent to the HR Giger Museum is the Tibet Museum – another specialist collection seemingly out of place in medieval Gruyères. Gruyères Castle and the medieval old town are easier to enjoy by the huge numbers of day-trip travelers flocking to this popular tourist town.