One of Aotearoa's most highly-regarded art professionals will judge the 2020 National Contemporary Art Award.

The director of The Dowse Art Museum, Karl Chitham, will select the finalists and prize winners for the 21st running of the National Contemporary Art Award, managed by Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato.

Well-known in New Zealand art circles, Chitham joined the Dowse early last year after three years as Director and Curator of Tauranga Art Gallery, Toi Tauranga.

He has also held curatorial roles at Rotorua Museum Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa, University of Waikato, Whakatāne Museum & Gallery and Objectspace.


"I'm honoured to judge the National Contemporary Art Award. It has a wonderful legacy nurtured over two decades, and it has launched the national and international careers for a number of New Zealand artists.

"It's a big responsibility and one I look forward to."

"We're thrilled that Karl Chitham will be our judge this year," Waikato Museum director Cherie Meecham says.

"His qualifications speak for themselves and entrants will be glad to have their work judged by someone with Karl's standing. It will be a huge incentive to enter the award this year.

"Entries for the award are open now. We're just waiting to hear the Government's decision on Covid-19 alert levels going forward to confirm our timetable for the run-up to the opening of the exhibition planned for August 8."

The overall winner of the award will receive a cash prize of $20,000 from major sponsors Tompkins Wake and Chow:Hill.

The winner of the Hugo Award for Runner-Up, sponsored by Hugo Charitable Trust, will receive $5000, while two Merit Awards of $1000, supported by Random Art Group and Friends of Waikato Museum, will also be selected.

The $250 Campbell Smith Memorial People's Choice Award winner will be decided by public votes during the exhibition season.


Entries for the award will close at 1pm on Wednesday May 13, unless Covid-19 alert levels force a review of the timetable.

Of Ngā Puhi and Te Uriroroi descent, Chitham has a master's degree in Sculpture from Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, and has been immersed in the arts in New Zealand for more than 15 years.

He was convenor of the inaugural Rydal Art Prize and was on the selection panel for the New Zealand Pavilion at the 2021 Venice Biennale.

He is an experienced judge, with recent credits including the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, the Taranaki National Art Awards and the Wairarapa Art Review.

Chitham has also written for a number of art magazines and recently co-authored the book Crafting Aotearoa: A Cultural History of Making in New Zealand and Wider Moana Oceania.

To enter the 2020 National Contemporary Art Award, go to