Contemporary artist Kate Newby, who put together her winning $50,000 installation with the help of abseilers, was reduced to shouting directions from a distance because of the Auckland Art Gallery's heritage status.

At the weekend, the 33-year-old was awarded the Walters Prize, which is named for the late New Zealand artist Gordon Walters and aims to make contemporary art more widely recognised and debated.

Visitors walking their way through Newby's Crawl out your window move up a concrete ramp, which functions as the entrance and is pitted with bottle caps and potholes, then on through a yellow corridor lined with a cotton sheet.

The piece continues around a corner, where a carpet is scrawled with a chalk message, before it travels outside, with two spraypainted rocks sitting on the shingled roof of the Grey Gallery, which are viewed through a window.


The building's heritage status meant Newby, whose work has been shown in Europe, Australia, central and north America, wasn't allowed to set a foot on the roof.

"There were these two burly guys [placing the rocks] and I'm shouting at them and I'm thinking, 'I feel stupid ... Don't apologise.' It was hilarious."

She said she understands that contemporary art isn't everyone's cup of tea but said art is what you make it.

"I always encourage audiences to research and engage. When I started learning about the Renaissance I had no idea and I thought it was so boring and the more I learnt about it I thought, 'This is so crucial and so important', but I had to do some work to get to that point ... I couldn't just look at it and think, 'Well, that's well done'."

Newby, who was catching up with family in Auckland yesterday, flies back today to a residency programme on Canada's Fogo Island in the North Atlantic.

The Walters Prize 2012 exhibition, with free entry, runs until November 11.