Art, Play and Politics



A Dialogue with the Art of Nancy Worthington


Nancy Worthington is, and has always been, a serious artist. But, at the same time, she loves to make us laugh. She often quotes George Bernard Shaw, who said “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”


Worthington’s colorful constructions are surely influenced by Dada, Surrealism, and artists like Edward Kienholz and Robert Rauschenberg (especially his “Combines”), but unlike Rauschenberg, she encourages us to touch them, to push buttons, and to engage with the work. We can get some inkling of what she means through the video below.

In making use of toys, machines, and discarded rubbish for her often-searing political commentary, Worthington combines a sharp critique of society with humor and fun. Plus, her craftmanship is beautiful.

Nancy Worthington’s art works have been exhibited all over the world, but many have also been censored, due to content perceived as too controversial.

Perhaps her best-known work was “Euthanasia,” censored in 1976 at an exhibition at Syntex Corporation in Palo Alto, CA. In February 2003, “The Crossing” was censored by the French Cultural Center in San Francisco; and in 2008, a work called “Gateway to Hope” was censored from an exhibition in Beijing.

Here you can see a number of works Worthington has created over the years. Her most recent ones are “HEY JUDE,” dedicated to the memory of her life partner Judith Fein, who died in 2016; and during Covid, “What’s the World Coming to 2020?” She has also opened her own museum, the Worthington-Fein Art Museum in Palm Springs, California, where she hosts multi-disciplinary events, including music, dance, and theater.



Daughters of Eve



War What’s It Good For?






7 feet 6 inches X 4 feet 6 inches X 4 feet 6 inches


Worthington: “HEY JUDE is a recent outdoor sculpture that I created to honor and pay tribute to the love of my life, partner for 44 years, and soul mate Judith Fein. I wanted to build a relatively large outdoor sculpture that could withstand the elements. I chose to use tough materials, steel, aluminum, durable coated strong wire, lots of rustproof bolts, washers and nuts, and exterior paints. A centerpiece near the middle of HEY JUDE is a copper bowl filled with a thick glass red ball-like object resembling a human heart surrounded by small clear glass marbles … Life ! I wanted to make HEY JUDE strong structurally and visually yet with feminine attachments and embellishments to add a softness to HEY JUDE, as Judith was herself strong and brave yet loving, soft, and kind. … Even though I am at such a loss that she passed away from me, I feel her spirit and I know she is watching over me. When you are walking around the piece and are standing at the back … a hood ornament that I once had on my cargo van when Judith and I were first together is placed strategically there… a woman with yellow wings straight by her sides taking off for a new and wonderful adventure.”




“Civilization!” is inspired by the artist’s fascination with found objects and their relevance to our current society. Worthington sees similarities between  computer circuit boards and aerial views of cities. Anthropomorphic elements of human form are incorporated into the body of the artwork and you will find “pre-civilization” dinosaurs hiding among the circuit boards. Within the sculpture, lights and electricity flow and pulsate. Pushing buttons on the sculpture reveals noises of modern civilization.




Worthington: “After all, weren’t some of us looking forward to a 20/20 insightful year … I was! Well it gave a number of people time to think … how can we manage? What’s happening to our planet earth? Will things ever be the same again? How do we cope?, What can we do? I thought … I know what to do … What I have been doing since I was about three or four years old … create art!!! Here I am at 73 in 2020 in such a frightening and stressful time for me and everyone worldwide! I needed to work through these times by expressing myself, by creating a sculpture… hence….

“2020, WHAT’S THE WORLD COMING TO ????” the human condition …bad and good… that tightrope of tragedy and comedy, as I created the comical yet tragic yellow figures climbing and lying all over, menacing frowning angry eyes staring out, the allusion to ventilators around the back of the sculpture, flashing lights , funny signs that say YIELD, a cat wearing a face mask, sound cancelling ear phones…



The artist, Nancy Worthington, and her museum in Palm Springs, CA. 2021



In conclusion, Nancy Worthington is an artist of lifelong dedication and passion for her art. The city of Palm Springs, where she lives, works, and has founded her museum, recently awarded her a Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.





Nancy Worthington broke the glass ceiling to become the first woman to graduate with an M.F.A. in sculpture from the College of Arts and Architecture at Pennsylvania State University in 1972, and the first woman to teach Sculpture at PSU. Worthington’s artworks represented the U.S.A. in the 18th International Biennial in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her works are in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., the U.S. State Department Art in Embassies Program, The San Jose Museum of Art, The Mills College Art Museum, the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, among others, and private collections worldwide; with artworks exhibited in the United States, Europe, South America, China, India and Japan.

Greta Berman received a B.A. from Antioch College, an M.A. from the University of Stockholm, and a Ph.D. from Columbia. She has been Professor of Art History at Juilliard since 1978. In addition to writing a monthly column, “Focus on Art,” for the Juilliard Journal, she co-curated and co-edited Synesthesia: Art and the Mind  She has published numerous articles, as well as lectured on synesthesia, and other subjects.


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