Hamilton's National Contemporary Art Award is languishing without a sponsor.
A long-time contemporary art collector and philanthropist says the format of the awards should not be tampered with.
Barry Hopkins, who put up the $15,000 prize money for last year's awards, says the awards work well as they are.
His comments follow Waikato Museum director Cherie Meecham's comments that the format may be adjusted in time for next year's awards.
Ms Meecham has indicated a judging panel may replace the sole judging format that has been in place since the awards' inception in 2000.
"I disagree strongly," said Barry. "A panel of judges doesn't make for a good exhibition. Last year's judge Caterina Riva was brave and cut it down a lot. I thought it was a very good show last year. I wouldn't like to see the format changed much."
Ms Riva sparked controversy last year over her choice of winner - an externally placed bus shelter, Parallel of Life, by Blaine Western and Michael Parr of Auckland. Media questioned if the shelter was art and it later attracted unwanted tagging.
It is not the first time the awards have attracted comment.
Calling for entries in the awards has been delayed because museum staff are trying to secure a sponsor. Waikato Museum partnerships and communications manager Louise Belay said there were two potential sponsors lined up for 2014 but the museum had imposed a deadline of early April to secure a sponsor for this year's awards.
While the awards have sparked debate in previous years, Barry said that was a valuable opportunity to discuss contemporary art's place in New Zealand's art and culture scene.
Previous winners include the binned wrappings of other entries tipped into a heap, a painting resembling a part of the female anatomy and a giant QR code.
"There have been some very interesting winners over the years; there are some very fine works that have won," said Mr Hopkins.
Some winners, he said, had gone on to great things. Gavin Hipkins, whose photograph of a soap dish took out the top prize in 2000, has exhibited internationally.
Measured and thoughtful, with more than a decent helping of wry humour, Barry is highly regarded in contemporary art circles. His collection of more than 200 contemporary works is housed at Waikato Museum.
Contemporary art is flourishing in New Zealand, according to Hopkins, but not here in the Waikato. He says it may be that the genre is misunderstood. It takes effort and time to read into the layers of meaning, to look beyond the work at face value.
Barry says Waikato artist Gaye Jurisich's Passing Red sculpture in Mill St is an excellent example of how the art genre is misjudged.
The public art work was severely damaged last month when a vehicle careered into it. At first, there were dozens of calls from the public to remove the sculpture permanently, that it was a waste of money and space and a reminder of the costly V8 events.
But slowly, Barry says, there was a groundswell of support for the sculpture.
"I like it's hard, industrial, angular look," said Barry.
"I'd like to see it reinstated in its sea of concrete."