It's got to be tough for artists when their work is literally passed up for a pile of trash. That's exactly what happened to 283 artists who entered to win the Waikato Museum Contemporary Art Award in New Zealand, only to see a small heap of garbage take the $15,000 prize.

 

Dane Mitchell called the gallery as the rest of the artists were unpacking their work and asked staff to pile the discarded packaging materials up for him, dictating how it should look. From Berlin, where he's currently an artist in residency at prestigious DAAD, Mitchell claimed the pile of trash and declared it recycled art.

 

The piece, entitled "Collateral," re-ignited the debate over the age-old question, "what qualifies as art?" One entrant angrily dismissed Mitchell as "insane," while another said that his piece was an embarrassment to the arts community. They were especially upset that he didn't even create the trash pile himself, and wasn't present as the award was presented.

 

"Contemporary art needs to say something to you and make you think," said entrant Mark Hayes, who spent 26 hours cutting, welding and grinding his own sculpture. "I am sorry but I just cannot see the 'clever' and 'cheeky' in the winning sculpture."

 

Judge Charlotte Haddleston defended her decision in an interview with New Zealand's 3 News.

 

"For me, I think it's because Dane responded to his particular situation and that's really what captured me with it. It is the packing material that's left over from the other artists, the other finalists, and as it happens it has their names on it. And I think that kind of speaks, in some ways, to the hopes and aspirations of everybody including Dane and the finalists and kind of brings them all together in one work."