SEDALIA — Jennifer Perlow was trying to focus. Taking in the details and theme of the 200 pieces of art she was commissioned to judge, her concentration was broken by one repeated sound.
“There were these punctuating chicken sounds out of the blue,” Perlow said.
As the judge of the Open Division of the Fine Arts Competition at the Missouri State Fair, Perlow, who owns the Perlow-Stevens Gallery in Columbia, selected 30 pieces of artwork to receive honors in the contest. Since judges change yearly, Perlow was new to the job.
“She came with an open mind, and … she wanted to see what was here and had a great perspective,” said Linda Hoover, who was in charge of selecting the judges.
Hoover selected judges who are involved with Missouri museums, galleries and schools. She commended Perlow’s reputation in the state.
“People can understand her perspective,” Hoover said. “She picked really quality pieces.”
Perlow arrived in Sedalia on Aug. 12, the day before the fair opened to the public. At 9 a.m. she began her tour of the Fine Arts Building, looking at each piece of artwork five times. After reviewing each painting, sculpture or photograph once, she began to take notes on her second round. She then narrowed her focus, and on her fourth trip through the gallery she honed in on her top choices. Finally, she double-checked each selection to ensure she had made the correct decision.
“Trying to narrow, no matter what you’re looking at, is challenging,” Perlow said.
Perlow awarded 15 cash prizes and 15 honorable mentions.
Despite her expertise, Perlow has never been a professional artist.
“I think that part of the reason that I do this is that I do not have any God-given skill, and I really appreciate the work of others,” Perlow said.
This appreciation of art inspires Perlow’s passion. An experienced judge, she has juried a dozen exhibits in the past seven years.
“The more you do it, the easier it becomes,” Perlow said. “It gets to be a process where you can start weeding through things and selecting work that you think is significant.”
The biggest challenge, Perlow said, was putting her own taste aside. With a sense of what she likes and doesn’t like within the art world, Perlow was challenged by the various skill levels and styles represented at the fair.
“Part of the challenge is that sometimes you have things that are technically very well done but might be completely outside the realm of your taste,” Perlow said.
Perlow advises aspiring artists to take advantage of the fair, which ends Sunday, and the opportunity it provides.
“You’ve just got to get out there and do it,” Perlow said. “Any artist who would like to get out there and start selling their work has to take advantage of these types of opportunities. Here’s an opportunity for people to come see your work.”
As a judge, Perlow remains grounded and tries to be as approachable as possible. At the opening reception, she was available to talk to artists about their work and her decisions.
“I don’t take myself too seriously,” Perlow said.
With her hope that the Missouri State Fair will inspire artists to make their work public, Perlow is an advocate of the growing Missouri art scene. She’s proud the fair has expanded its focus to include the arts.
“I think that’s very indicative of where Missouri is going,” Perlow said. “There certainly are movements … toward an appreciation of the arts and integration of the arts into daily lives. … It would be nice for Missouri to be known as the state of the arts."