An irate art dealer is accusing the organiser of an international art fair of snobbery in a tit-for-tat spat dividing the Auckland arts scene.

Auckland Art Fair organisers have invited nine Australian galleries to show their artists' work at a huge event next month. But several local galleries are miffed that they have been denied entry.

The art fair, run by the New Zealand Contemporary Art Trust, is expected to attract about 12,000 people to the Viaduct Events Centre over four days. It will feature 41 galleries.

Kieran Smyth, owner of Auckland's Smyth Galleries, desperately wants to be there, but he is on the reject list and doesn't know why.

"I swotted up on what was required and lobbied hard," he says. "My heart was set on it. But it's all very political and the most elitist and snobby world I've ever found."

Smyth says the Aussies should not be allowed to muscle in on Kiwi territory.

"Art-selling is under siege because it's very discretionary spending and exceptionally tough at the moment. It's the one time you would think the Auckland Art Fair would look after its own."

Pierre Peeters, who has run his own art gallery in Parnell for the past seven years, was also excluded after he put forward an application despite not being invited to.

"It's a very funny business to be involved with. It's about who you are and who you end up shaking hands with. You have to wait for them to put their hand out first. They will look at what you do and if it's wanky enough for them, they put their hand out and say 'You're in'."

Another Parnell gallery owner, who was part of the original steering committee for the fair about six years ago, didn't try to get in this year, after being rejected last time.

"It's pretty disgusting," says the gallery owner, who asked not to be named. "After last time I thought I'd done everything I could."

"I'm not going to lower myself to their standards. I think they are a very cliquey lot."

But art fair organiser Jennifer Buckley says the fair is not a goodwill operation.

"It's not an open process because I don't like saying no," she says.

Space was tight at the venue and gallery owners who didn't meet the criteria have had the process explained to them.

"I think illiteracy might be the problem," she says. "And the lack of professionalism is breathtaking."

An eight-strong panel, which includes New Zealand Contemporary Art Trust members, ranks the applications and the top 41 make it in. Australians are crucial because it is an international event.

She also says claims of elitism are applied selectively.

"Everyone accepts All Blacks have selectors who choose the best players, but they don't apply that to the arts."