From John Storrs to “Star Wars”

Because Saturday marks the opening of one of the 2010-2011 art season’s most anticipated exhibitions-the Norton’s presentation of Nick Cave’s wearable “Sound Suits,” in a show titled “Meet Me at the Center of the Earth”-I thought it reason to mention another show at the Norton that risks being lost in the Cave hoopla. It’s called “John Storrs: Machine-Age Modernist,” and it opened quietly last weekend. I was one of just three members of the South Florida art media to attend the advance press tour, a paltry turnout compared to other Norton shows in recent memory, and all the more discouraging considering this is the first exhibition of Storrs’ work to tour in more than 20 years.

A former apprentice to Auguste Rodin, Storrs rose to modern-art prominence in Depression-era Chicago, New York and Paris, cities that inspired most of the sculptures and paintings on display in “Machine-Age Modernist.” It’s a relatively small show, covering only a couple of rooms, but it offers a diverse look at Storrs’ specialties-his architecturally grounded edifices of gleaming metal and his quasi-abstract sculptures in stone and terra cotta. And “Machine-Age Modernist” further reveals Storrs to have been an artistic sponge, absorbing and reappropriating numerous movements in his art, from cubism to futurism to Picasso-like surrealism and Native American artisanal work.

But the piece I find most intriguing is the one pictured below left. It’s called “The Abbot,” a bronze sculpture from 1920 that curiously anticipates a certain science-fiction warlord some 50 years later.

When I passed the image of “The Abbot” around the office, the response from everybody was pretty instantaneous: “That’s Darth Vader.” No fan of George Lucas, I’d love to accuse him of plagiarizing the look of the iconic “Star Wars” villain from a Depression-era modern art sculpture, but this one has to be chalked up to coincidence. A Google search doesn’t yield any connection between Storrs and Lucas (that is, until the publication of this blog).

But Storrs’ cinematic connections don’t end there. I can’t look at “Ceres,” below left, arguably Storrs’ most famous piece, without thinking of Maria, the robot from Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece “Metropolis,” released the year before Storrs was commissioned to make “Ceres.”

Just to prove I’m not completely off-base here, the Norton will be screening “Metropolis” in December as part of its “Art After Dark” special evening on Storrs. Storrs may very well have been informed by Lang’s film, but his premature Vader mold lends new meaning to the term “futurism.”

“John Storrs: Machine-Age Modernist” is on display through Jan. 2 at the Norton, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. For information, call 561/832-5196.