Celebrating Donald Smith

Retiring after 30 years at Chelsea College of Arts, UAL


Donald Smith in the exhibition
Donald Smith in the exhibition Second Home, (2017) by Richard Woods. Photograph by Cherie Silver.

Chelsea Space and Chelsea College of Arts, UAL would like to raise a glass in acknowledgement of the 30- year career of their colleague Donald Smith, who will be retiring in December 2021.

A previous student of Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts (1981-84) and Chelsea College of Art & Design (1990-91); Smith founded the Contemporary Art Slide Scheme (1992) at Chelsea Library, taught on BA and MA Fine Art courses from 1992, was course leader of Global Art Practice (2002-2005) and founded Chelsea Space, which opened on 4 March 2005.

As Director of Exhibitions, Smith has developed and overseen over eighty-three Chelsea Space shows, events, and off-site projects including the programme at Chelsea Futurespace (2006-2012). With an emphasis on curatorial experimentation, the exposure of process and ideas, re-readings of artworks, and the incorporation of collections and archives and their re-presentation for contemporary audiences, Chelsea Space is a gallery hosting international and interdisciplinary projects covering art, design and popular culture.

Formed with the ethos of the civic relationship between a public and institutional audience, under Donald Smith’s direction the gallery has emulated the architectural feature of a large plate glass window— blurring the boundaries of inside and outside to create a sense of a meeting place where, over its sixteen-year history, informal social networks have developed and many major new projects and professional relationships have been forged. This was acknowledged by Artlyst, who featured Smith for nine consecutive years in their Alt Power 100 list. Reviewed in journals including Artforum, Frieze, Creative Review, Art Monthly, Observer Magazine, Rolling Stone, Wall Street International, amongst others, the gallery under Smith’s direction has been quietly influential and Tate and the Henry Moore Institute have acquired work for their collections as a direct result of several Chelsea Space shows. Donald Smith has been invited to give talks about Chelsea Space at institutions including Tate Britain; Serpentine Gallery; Sorbonne, Paris; Liverpool John Moores University; Beaconsfield Gallery; Slade School, UCL; RCA; Newcastle University; Tate British Art Network.

In 2014 Smith co-wrote the new MA Curating and Collections course with Dr David Dibosa, that introduced the Exhibition Studio Workshop between the teaching spaces and Chelsea Space, to activate materials and items from Chelsea Space, Chelsea College of Arts Library and Special Collections. This is a practice-based strand of the postgraduate taught course which gives students the opportunity to work within the professional gallery environment. MA Curating and Collections and Chelsea Space promotes a pedagogy that understands the importance of art practice within a social milieu, networks are viewed as important vehicles for creative development and are encouraged. At Chelsea Space students are informally introduced to lead practitioners and influential industry professionals.

Chelsea Space has accumulated a variety of archives and collections which it shares with MA Curating and Collections that are available for the students to study, handle, and use in exhibitions. The collections include the Chelsea Space Archive; artworks and ephemera donated to Donald Smith and Chelsea Space; objects from the Chelsea School of Art collection from the former college site at Manresa Road SW3. The collections include Sir William Orpen, Frederick Etchells/Omega Workshop, Gerrit Rietveld, Gillian Wearing, Fiona Banner, Sheila Rock, Noel Forster, Barney Bubbles, Richard Woods, Bruce McLean, Lawrence Weiner, Ed Ruscha, Anya Gallaccio, Richard Wilson, Alvar Aalto and Barbara Kruger among many others.

With a substantial legacy to both teaching and curating, Donald Smith leaves a profound space in the cultural life of the college, and will be sincerely missed by colleagues and students alike.


UAL Chelsea College of Arts