Among the Goths, Proto-Goths, and Technical Metalheads at an H. R. Giger Show

One recent Sunday evening, Alexander Shulan, the thirty-three-year-old owner of the Lomex Gallery, in Tribeca, was pacing the space, worrying about his gallery’s potential ruin. In a couple of hours, as part of the first major New York retrospective of the Swiss artist H. R. Giger since his death, in 2014, Shulan was staging an avant-metal concert, which, fearing pandemonium, he’d decided not to publicize. He’d heard things about past Giger shows. Two fans had played football inside a gallery in New York. In Berlin, Julian Schnabel had opened an exhibition the same day as Giger’s; a handful showed up for Schnabel and thousands queued around the block for Giger. At the opening of the Lomex show, in January, hundreds had swarmed the tiny space, despite a nor’easter. Some visitors had been reduced to tears, a few pulling back sleeves or pant legs to reveal tattoos that matched the art. “It’s a pilgrimage,” Shulan said.

Shulan, who had on black jeans, a black button-down, and black sneakers, has revered Giger since he was a teen-ager. “It was this obsession for me,” he said. “I met his agent five years ago through Facebook.” Giger is best known for designing the creature in Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” but he also created some nightmarish album artwork, for such musicians as Danzig, the Dead Kennedys, and Debbie Harry. He’d never heard of Harry before he met her (and became smitten), in 1980, on a trip to the States to collect his visual-effects Oscar for “Alien.” In 2002, he pulled up to the last major American exhibition of his work in a hearse. Something of a proto-goth, he kept company with Salvador Dalí and Timothy Leary.

In the gallery, Shulan was scheming with his assistants pro tempore (a gaggle of clipboard-wielding young women in black) when the expected throng of Lower East Side scenesters and new Pratt grads flooded in. The throne Giger designed for Alejandro Jorodowsky’s never-made “Dune” adaptation was the first thing they saw. “My son would love it for gaming,” a guest named Matthew Rosenberg said, peering at the nearly seven-foot-tall glossy black chair modelled on a human skeleton.

“Imagine being a Twitch streamer in that thing,” another man said to his friend. They both agreed that “Alien” was a perfect movie and took a minute to appreciate some of Giger’s prototypes: “All the penis images. He kinda based the head of the alien off of a penis,” one said. The friend nodded thoughtfully.

Across the room, the former d.j. DB Burkeman, in joggers and a Mike Kelley T-shirt, was arguing with a painter about the origins of tentacle porn. Before them was a wall of three white-on-black prints from a series Giger did in 1969 of body-horror biomechs––part female viscera, part Ace Hardware.

“My son was telling me this is like the anime thing?” Burkeman said.

“Hentai,” an onlooker offered.

“It’s sexual,” Erik Foss, the former co-owner of the Lit Lounge, said. “It’s violent, but it’s sensual at the same time.” Suddenly, the lights flashed off and on and people headed toward the door. “What’s happening?” a woman shrouded in earth-toned cashmere asked.

“A shredding,” a security guard said.

“I’ll keep my mind open so it can get blown,” she said, following the crowd up a flight of stairs.

In a loft above the gallery, dark but for a single strobe light, people gathered around a bearded man whose shadow was projected monstrously onto the brick wall behind him. This was Ocrilim (his bio on Google lists his date of birth as 1900). He held a Gibson guitar, similar to the model used by Angus Young, of AC/DC.

“It’s like a poetry reading,” a girl in a chore coat and Doc Martens said.

“He has long hair, so that means he’s connected to some crazy biorhythm,” her friend said.

Without a word, the shredding commenced. The Gibson screeched. In the very back of the room, an art student whispered to a friend, “Technical metal is nerdy.”

Exaltedly nerdy,” his friend corrected. ♦

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