top of page


All eyes on the two women that are glamming up the Paris gallery scene.




Serena Cattaneo Adorno at the Gagosian gallery in Paris.

Historically the Paris art scene was considered to be split between the two banks of the Seine, but today’s action is mostly on the right bank. The rivalry is between the posh eighth arrondissement, near the Champs-Élysées – home to Christie’s and Sotheby’s, Jérome de Noirmont, the Hotel Royal Monceau, Gagosian, and the Marais - where hundreds of contemporary art galleries moved when the Pompidou center opened there in the late 1970s.The two districts are represented by two glamorous and well-connected women, both extraordinarily influential, well informed, and passionate: Serena Cattaneo Adorno, Director of Gagosian Paris, at 4 Rue de Ponthieu, while Victoire de Pourtalès, is the David Zwirner in the Marais. The two are good friends but professional rivals.

Serena Cattaneo Adorno was born in Genoa to Italian and French parents and educated at the fashionable l’Aiglon boarding school in Switzerland, she studied at Saint Martins in London. She then worked for Larry Gagosian in London for four years. You can say Serena has an enviable background. Her father, the Marquese Giacomo Cattaneo Adorno, owns one of the most beautiful palazzos in Genoa and is descended from that city’s last doge. Her maternal grandfather, Gian Franco Brignone, founded the jet-set paradise resort of Careyes on the Pacific Coast of Mexico where her mother Emanuela Brignone, a Columbia University-trained architect, opened an art gallery that she designed. With such a background, she can bring a great address book to Gagosian Paris, but she is very much motivated by her desire to exhibit younger artists, as she did in London.

The opening of Gagosian Paris was the talk of the town. The events surrounding it included an extremely exclusive dinner for 160 top collectors at the Musée Rodin and an intimate ceremony at the gallery the next day, at which culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand presented Larry Gagosian with the Légion d’Honneur. (Like a traveling salesman, the minister awarded the honor to Gagosian an hour after he had given one to David Hockney at the Foundation Saint Laurent-Pierre Bergé). All this was followed by a press launch the next morning, a private viewing in the afternoon, and an evening dance with Roman Polanski, Jean-Christophe Pigozzi, and Paris’s whole jeunesse dorée, held at the Travelers Club on the Champs-Elysées. 


Victoire de Pourtalès with Twist and Shout, an ash tree sculpture by Richard Deacon at Thaddaeus Ropac

Serena Cattaneo is a tough woman yet seemed slightly overwhelmed by all of the social activity. But one thing is sure: from the very numerous security guards to the young press ladies all dressed in high-heeled boots and black mini-skirts, everyone seems to respect her and to fear her reactions. Larry Gagosian – who, on Annina Nosei’s recommendation, was one of the first gallerists in LA to exhibit Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1982 – played it safe this time with two exhibitions Cy Twombly’s new series of paintings, Camino Real, and the architect Jean Prouvé.

Meanwhile, across town, all eyes are on another brilliant woman. Victoire de Pourtalès is both a sound art historian and someone who uses her charm to talk people into buying works of art. Like Serena, she is well connected. Born into one of the most prominent Protestant French families, she was brought up in the beautiful 18th-century Château du Marais, southwest of Paris. Sent to boarding school at Mayfield in England when she was 10, she later lived in Rome and gained an international outlook very early on. She studied at ICART (Institut Supérieur des Carrières Artistiques) and the Ecole du Louvre. After an internship at Christie’s Paris, she went to work with Florence de Voldère, a Flemish art specialist with a taste for contemporary art. This gave her the necessary professional qualifications, but she had already absorbed a great deal of knowledge from her family. The artistic Gaston Palewski, right-hand man of General de Gaulle and famously loved by Nancy Mitford, was married to her grandmother, Violette de Talleyrand Périgord. Her other grandfather was the painter Mandat Grancey.


Jean-Michel Basquiat in his NoHo studio in 1985, in front of Flexible (1984)

Victoire’s lucky break was meeting the Austrian megadealer Thaddaeus Ropac. He gave her an internship, and four years later, she became head of the drawing department. She traveled everywhere with “the boss” – to Frieze in London, Abu Dhabi, and Art Basel. Ropac gave her a lot of freedom to showcase young talent. For instance, she has championed some young Iranian artists she met while traveling there in 2008. One, Ali Banisadr, exhibited at Ropac Gallery a few months later. Ropac, who is a far-sighted and brilliant dealer, allowed her tastes to develop and one would say led her to her new position as Director of David Zwirner Paris.

The futures of these two aristocratic but ambitious and driven women will be watched with great interest in Paris, where the art scene – as all agreed after last year’s FIAC – is enjoying a renaissance.

bottom of page