The biennial Walters Prize profiles outstanding examples of contemporary New Zealand art. Named in honour of pioneering modernist painter Gordon Walters (1919–1995), the Prize aims to make contemporary art more widely recognised and debated.

Over a two-year period, an independent jury of curators and artists researches national and international exhibitions to nominate four finalists whose work is recreated for display at the Gallery. A key feature of the Walters Prize is that it brings to Auckland a distinguished judge with an international perspective. The judges so far have been: Harald Szeemann (2002), Robert Storr (2004), Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (2006), Catherine David (2008), Vicente Todolí (2010), Mami Kataoka (2012), Charles Esche (2014), Doryun Chong (2016) and Adriano Pedrosa (2018), Mata Aho Collective and Maureen Lander (2021). 

The Walters Prize was established in 2002 by founding benefactors and principal donors Erika & Robin Congreve and Dame Jenny Gibbs, together with Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. From 2004 Lady Dayle Mace became a major donor, providing an award to each of the finalists. Founding sponsors were EY, who dedicated their support until 2010 and Saatchi & Saatchi, whose relationship with the Prize continued until the end of the 2014 iteration. In 2014 the Auckland Contemporary Arts Trust provided support as a principal donor and Elevation Capital joined as a major sponsor. More recently, Christopher and Charlotte Swasbrook have moved to support the prize as major donors.