From 1981-89, Valerie Smith served as Chief Curator for Artists Space, one of the first 'alternative' spaces in New York City. There she organized exhibitions and projects with artists and architects, among them: Antonio Muntadas, Alfredo Jaar, Zoe Leonard, Diller/Scofidio, Min Joong group, Jîrí David, Mike Kelly with Sonic Youth, James Coleman and Michael Asher.
From 1990-93, she was the Director of Sonsbeek 93 in Arnhem, Holland, a recurring international exhibition established in 1949. There she commissioned 48 site-specific installations works by artists such as Mirosław Bałka, Juan Muñoz, Andreas Siekmann, Paveł Althamer, Alighiero e Boetti, Yuri Leiderman, Vong Phaophanit among others.
In 1997-98 she produced and edited Artists Space's 25th anniversary book 5,000 Return to Artists Space, for which she made over 200 interviews. She became Chief Curator and Director of Exhibitions for the Queens Museum in 1999 where she organized numerous exhibitions including: Crossing the Line (2001) 40 new works by artists situated in cultural and non-cultural sites throughout the borough of Queens; Joan Jonas, Five Works (2003) for which she won an International Association of Art Critics Award, Down the Garden Path, The Artists' Garden After Modernism (2004) for which she was granted an Emily Hall Tremaine Curatorial Award. She co-curated 1.5 Generation (2007), which included Pablo Helguera, Ellen Harvey, Emily Jacir, Mingwei Lee, Shirin Neshat, Seher Shah, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Nari Ward.
In 2008, she became Head of Visual Arts, New Media and Film at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin where she initiated the on-going series, Labor Berlin, for foreign-born, Berlin-based artists not commercially represented in Germany. She has also curated several exhibitions at HKW, among them: Rational/Irrational (2008), Uber Wut (2010), and Between Walls and Windows, Architecture and Ideology (2012) for which she commissioned new work with artists and architects among them Javier Téllez, Klara Lìden, Michael Rakowitz, Reloading Images, and Institute für Architektur und Urbanistik, Amateur Architecture Studio, Inigo Manglano-Ovalle. She has also produced individual exhibition projects with Tadashi Kawamata, Qiu Zhijie, and Ulrike Ottinger. In between she curated the touring exhibition: Juan Downey: The Invisible Architect (MIT, List Visual Arts Center; State University of Arizona, Tempe; Bronx Museum of the Arts). She is currently teaching "Exhibition Histories, Europe and America, 1966 to the present" at Barnard College, Columbia University, New York.