Hans Ruedi Giger’s solo show at Lomex is a consummately weird exhibition—think: Japanese tentacle porn meets mechanical-biological hallucinations. In one work, a glossy black chair has an engine for a seat and a human backbone that leads up to three stacked skulls. In another, a feline creature with a barbed tail merges with an arthropod on its haunches.
These are just some of the dark delights concocted by the iconic artist with an appropriately sci-fi-sounding name. H.R. Giger, who died in 2014, is known for his ominous work picturing twisted bodies and cityscapes infused with technology. The cult figure’s vision received its most prominent accolade when, in 1979, Giger’s concept designs for Ridley Scott’s Alien received an Academy Award. Informed by the artist’s obsession with Japanese culture and cyberpunk, his art often features scantily clad alien women. They’re usually presented with conspicuously Aryan features and are often bound or gagged, sometimes with phallic piping emerging from their mouths or orifices. But his sketches included here have the assurance of Old Masters. Indeed, this retrospective—the largest US survey of his work in three decades—seeks to situate Giger as a maker not just of commercial art or world-building, but of fine art.
Although his cityscapes seem unworldly, Giger was profoundly inspired by New York. The city began appearing in his work when he was 18, and it was seminal to his dystopian, technocratic and occult landscapes, with their winnowing dark spires like a place alive. He pays homage to the grittier but no less fundamental aspects of city life in works like N. Y. City X, Chelsea Cockroaches (1980), in which vermin squirm across the center of the print. Giger contributed to the city in turn, like when he designed the VIP room of the storied Manhattan club the Limelight. Set in a Gothic Revival church on 20th Street, Giger’s design included sand-cast aluminum tables with etched reliefs, six condors hanging from the ceilings and a Swatch-inspired chandelier. Such motifs reappear in Mondaine-Watch N.Y.C. I (1994), which also features an inset watch, and Giger used aluminum across much of his work.
After taking in dozens of drawings, paintings and sculptures, it’s easy to see why Giger never got his due within the fine arts. His work was commercial, erotic, dark and weird. But today, his style has become so authoritative as to approach the banal—his aesthetic is everywhere from the Bioshock gameverse to the Matrix movies—there's reason to reevaluate the trailblazer. As “HRGNYC” persuasively argues, Giger’s force of influence and skill is enough to merit a place in the pantheon of fine art. —Lisa Yin Zhang
H.R. Giger, Female Torso, 1994. Aluminum and painted bronze cast, 41 × 17 3/8 × 13 3/4 inches. Courtesy of Lomex Alexander Shulan Fine Art. Photo: Chris Stein