Smith was born in Manassas, Virginia in 1972. She received a BA in psychology from The New School for Social Research, a BFA in fine arts from Parsons School of Design, and an MFA in sculpture from the Yale University School of Art. She also participated in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. She lived in New York City from 1990 until 2008 when she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to join the faculty of California College of the Arts, where she is Associate Professor and Chair of the Sculpture Program.
Smith has been exhibited at numerous institutions including Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Public Art Fund, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, P.S.1/MoMA, Palais de Tokyo, the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, MASS MoCA, The Tang Museum, The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Berkeley Art Museum, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, The Arts Club of Chicago, S!GNAL Center for Contemporary Art, and Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Smith has lectured on her work extensively at art schools and research universities in the United States and abroad, as well as at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, SculptureCenter and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics. Her work has been reviewed and featured in The New York Times, Artforum, Art in America, Sculpture, Art:21, PBS The Art Assignment, and in many other media and scholarly publications.
Smith has received generous support from United States Artists, Public Art Fund, Arts Council England, Creative Work Fund, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and New York Foundation for the Arts, as well as prestigious award residencies at Artpace San Antonio, Washington University, and Headlands Center for the Arts. Museum acquisitions include the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Saatchi Gallery London, and many others. Her monograph Allison Smith: The Muster was released in 2007 and is being distributed by Distributed Art Publishers (D.A.P.). She is the author of Allison Smith: Needle Work (University of Chicago Press, 2010). She currently runs the project SMITHS out of her storefront studio in Oakland, where she lives with her partner, writer/curator Christina Linden.