Artists have taken as a slap in the face a piece of "art" which won a Waikato award ahead of their entries without its creator having touched or seen it.

The piece, Collateral, which won the Waikato National Contemporary Art Award, was entered by Berlin-based Dane Mitchell, who won $15,000 for his effort - or lack of.

Mitchell wrote a message to Waikato Museum art gallery staff asking them to collect the discarded wrapping of other entries and tip it on the floor. That was his entry, the Waikato Times reported.

Another entrant, Mark Hayes, said he spent 26 hours "cutting, welding and grinding"' for his Domestic Violence is Not Okay sculpture, but probably should not have bothered.

"Contemporary art needs to say something to you and make you think. I am sorry but I just cannot see the 'clever' and 'cheeky' in the winning sculpture," he said. "Is someone trying to make Trust Waikato look like a joke?"

Other local artists Collette Fergus and Bruce McLachlan said the winning entry was "the worst yet".

"A pile of rubbish that wasn't even created by this guy is worth $15,000?" Fergus asked.

She said it was a "sad mockery of us all and an embarrassment to the arts community".

Museum director Kate Vusoniwailala defended the decision of the judge, Charlotte Huddleston.

It had achieved an objective of getting a lot of people talking about the awards, she said.

"There will always be people who love things and those who hate them. The bottom line is we always ensure the judge we select has an excellent reputation."