Ruth Buchanan has won the 2018 Walters Prize for her work BAD VISUAL SYSTEMS.

The Berlin-based, New Zealand-born artist was named on Friday evening the winner of New Zealand's most prestigious contemporary art award, taking home the $50,000 top prize. She was nominated along with Jacqueline Fraser, Jess Johnson and Simon Ward and Pati Solomona Tyrell who each receive $5000.

Adriano Pedrosa, artistic director of the Sao Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) in Brazil, decided on the winner after arriving in the country on Tuesday to spend three days closely examining and scrutinising the prize contenders.

"In many ways, it is an exciting opportunity to spend so much time with four works when compared to somewhere like the Venice Biennale, you may spend one day looking at 200 works."

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Pedrosa described BAD VISUAL SYSTEM as complex and intellectual but also playful and humorous. He admired the many materials and media it included - sculpture, textiles, decoration, furniture, architecture, performance, sound, graphic design, sound, text, publication and the exhibition format itself – and how Buchanan encompassed these to provide a "distinct polyphonic quality" which touched on issues such as politics, feminism and the body.

He saw it ultimately as a commentary on language and representation, subjects that have long interested Buchanan. Her art frequently considers how language and identity intersect, gender, and the power of architecture, art, language and institutions, like art galleries and museums, in shaping knowledge and behaviour.

Artist Ruth Buchanan has won the 2018 Walters Prize.
Artist Ruth Buchanan has won the 2018 Walters Prize.

Speaking with the NZ Herald earlier this year, she said one of her aims with BAD VISUAL SYSTEMS was to explore the "body politic" and the place of individual bodies within it.

"I think most of us would agree that history — dealing with 'history' anyway — will always involve an engagement with questions around hierarchy, power and, I guess, institutional mechanisms, so they are big themes or questions to try to address. They're the driving concerns behind the show."

The four works were initially chosen by experienced NZ curators Stephen Cleland, Allan Smith, Lara Strongman and Megan Tamati-Quennell who looked at more than 30 projects by NZ artists here and overseas.

They said the works expand ideas of sex, gender and ritual, installations exploring the legacies of feminism and embracing and pushes technologies of moving image and animation.

The Walters Prize exhibition continues at Auckland Art Gallery until January 28.