Throughout the ages, Switzerland has bubbled with productivity: It’s where psychologist Carl Jung articulated the collective unconscious, the Dada antiart movement began in 1916, and 450 varieties of cheese are currently produced. It’s also where macabre surrealist H.R. Giger acquired the Château St. Germain and opened a museum to showcase his art on a permanent basis.
Located in Gruyères, a quaint mountain village known primarily for cheese, and commendably staffed by Swiss goth hotties, the facility covers the entire span of Giger’s career, including airbrushes of wicked Baphomet imagery, Lovecraftian nightmarescapes, bald women whose nether regions morph into weapons and latex creatures from the movie Alien. If you go, don’t miss the wall of Giger tattoo photos and—behind the 18-and-over curtain—”Penis Landscape”, the infamous artwork that got Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys arrested and tried on obscenity charges.
“Most people travel to Gruyères for the castle and the cheese factory,” says Aurore Sierro, one of the museum’s tour guides. “And when they come in here, they get disgusted.” With an angelic French accent, she can discuss all things Giger, from the time as a teenager that he set his dad’s pharmacy on fire by trying to melt lead, to the detractors who blamed him for his first wife’s depression and subsequent suicide. “He is definitely a Swiss artist,” Sierro enthuses, pointing out traditional Swiss doily textures disguised in a Giger airbrush work. “He also painted aliens eating fondue.”
Across a cobblestone path from the museum, in the same building as an old folks’ home, sits the Giger Bar, featuring concrete vertebrae ceilings and biomechanical furniture. (There’s another Giger Bar, circa 1992, in Giger’s hometown, Chur. Diehard fanatics might take a pilgrimage there to Storchengasse 17, where the artist grew up.)
A short trip from Gruyères is the town of Fribourg, home to Espace Jean Tinguely–Niki de Saint Phalle, a museum dedicated to Tinguely’s moving scrap metal sculptures and de Saint Phalle’s crackpot feminine figurines. And a train ride brings you to Lugano, a city in the southern tip of the country that hosts the annual Ti-Tattoo Convention, which occurs August 28–30 this year.
One tip: The country can be expensive—even the cheapest hotels are $70—but cost-cutting schemes do exist. An absolute must for those lingering more than a few days is a Swiss Rail Pass, which provides unlimited access to trains, buses, boats, and many museums.
Another must is the grub, especially röschti, a local equivalent of hash browns that comes in any number of variations. Postfeast, soothe digestion with a glass of kirsch, an 80-proof cherry liquor also used in making fondue. And to help digest the Giger Museum, try traditional moitié-moitié fondue at the Chalet de Gruyères, just nearby.
H.R. Giger Museum and Bar
Château St. Germain, Gruyères
Giger Bar, Chur
Comercialstrasse 23, Chur
Espace Jean Tinguely–Niki de Saint Phalle
Rue de Morat 2, Fribourg
Centro Esposizioni, Lugano
Chalet de Gruyères
Rue du Bourg, Gruyères