New York

H. R. Giger, Gebärmaschine (Birth Machine), 1969, silk screen on aluminum, 51 1⁄8 × 37 1⁄8.

H. R. Giger, Gebärmaschine (Birth Machine), 1969, silk screen on aluminum, 51 1⁄8 × 37 1⁄8.

H. R. Giger

The sci-fi hellscapes of H. R. Giger (1940–2014) are curiously placid, as contemplative as they are ominous in their ashen airbrushed desolation. The Swiss artist, perhaps most famous for his creation of the ambushing parasite predator in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien, did not—in his own work—favor fast action. The subjects of his portraiture often appear embalmed or asleep. Other compositions represent his bleak futurism via cropped views of sinister circuitry and coital hydraulics—the lubricated machinery of a sexed-up totalitarian posthuman world, either on pause or running with grim efficiency.

Among the earliest works on view in “HRGNYC” at Lomex was the silk-screen-on-aluminum Gebärmaschine (Birth Machine), 1969, an apt introduction to the artist’s mythos and the post-Surrealist, dystopian Pop style he termed biomechanical. It is a still life of sorts, depicting the cross section of a gun loaded not with bullets but with fetuses, each one armed and armored. Curated by Alessio Ascari and Alexander Shulan, the show featured a career-spanning array of Giger’s drawings, prints, and sculptures, loosely anchored by a focus on his New York–related projects, though no unifying theme was necessary; the artist articulated his dark vision with the conceptual unity and insistence of a prophet.

For the most part, he was impervious to the trends of his time, but because his world was so seductively expanded upon by generations of acolytes—art directors, fashion designers, video-game creators, tattoo artists—something of a subcultural feedback loop emerged. (Punk, goth, and industrial aesthetics, for example, inflect his work.) Here, photographs by Chris Stein of Blondie fame were evidence of Giger calibrating himself to the lighter New Wave energy of New York’s downtown scene. Shot on set during video sessions for Debbie Harry’s 1981 solo album KooKoo, for which she collaborated with Giger, the pictures show a goofy side to the Swiss artist, for better or worse. (In the not-uncharacteristically juvenile cover art for KooKoo—which is representative of Giger’s approach to the project—Harry appears as one of his dreamy-eyed Egyptian-inspired sex empresses, her head and throat pierced straight through by giant needles.) The glossy black Harkonnen CAPO chair, 1981—a throne of vertebrae and stacked skulls atop a base recalling that of Herman Miller’s Ergon chair—boasts a New York provenance, too. This work, the exhibition’s centerpiece, originally conceived for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s shelved production of Dune, became a seat of power in clubland when Limelight owner Peter Gatien commissioned Giger to design his VIP room in 1998.

Giger’s substantive engagement with the city, seen as both muse and postapocalyptic urban prototype, is more apparent in a print series from the early ’80s. In skyless vistas and disorienting topographies, infrastructural density and decay become the basis of hallucinatory, rhythmic architectures. While the strong verticals of N.Y. City XXVIII, Cross Opposite, 1981/1982, resemble skyscrapers—the dick-shaped subterranean train cars running perpendicular to them indicating that the picture is not an aerial view of endless conduits but a frontal one—the semifigurative N.Y. City VI, Torso, 1980/1982, with its rear view of a comely cyborg skeleton plugged into a network of tubes, gives no sense of perspective or scale. It might not depict an upright human-size body, but rather an immense facedown edifice belonging to an evil metropolis—one that has waited patiently, for millennia perhaps, to emerge from the surface of an incinerated planet.

Such twinnings of unfathomable violence and hypnotic calm are at the heart of Giger’s appeal. These forces are as striking in his smaller preparatory drawings as they are in the grander, more polished works, delivering a consistent picture of the future—cataclysmic but not chaotic, with endless streams of anesthesia to quell its endless pain. Yes, you may survive nuclear holocaust only to become livestock in an industrial organ farm or a sex mannequin for the AI gestapo, Giger admits, but you’ll never know it. “In space no one can hear you scream,” warns the vintage Alien tagline; in Giger’s terrifying cosmos, you would never even try.