Concept and Research Design

Controversies over the territorial displacement of cultural assets in times of war and peace is an essential component of cultural history and is of greater relevance than ever. The consequences of such translocations are among the great challenges facing society in the 21st century: Lawyers, museum workers, politicians, ethnologists, archaeologists, art dealers, political activists, journalists, artists, and writers struggle daily to make "fair" cultural policy decisions, for example in the settling of restitution disputes. The most often asked questions include: To whom do these objects belong? Who has a right to their interpretation? And how can provenance research help us understand these issues?

Today, it is not only those displacements resulting from physical force in the past that are seen as problematic. Increasingly, criticism is also directed towards forms of translocations resulting from academic or aesthetic demands that were facilitated by an asymmetric balance of power (be it of an economic, political or epistemic nature). The field of translocations as such – that is, not the history of the transferred object, but the actual phenomenon of the transfer itself, with all its traumas, discourses, actors, gestures, techniques and representations – has hardly been recognized, and certainly not fully researched.

The key objective of translocations – Historical Enquiries into the Displacement of Cultural Assets is a compilation of scholarly findings about the social, political and cultural implications of past displacements of cultural assets, which will deliver orientation and direction for the future. This historical research deliberately aims to shape a societal dialogue process and to develop potential courses of action. translocations will not resolve property or restitution disputes. The cluster is instead positioned to address questions on a scientific level through history, social and visual sciences: What did such displacements across time and space trigger, how were they perceived, remembered, and exploited? The subject of research for translocations are large-scale displacements of cultural assets since antiquity, such as: art theft and spoliation organized by the state in times of war and occupation, seizure of cultural goods during colonialism, displacements as a result of a partition of excavation discoveries and research expeditions, a material diaspora of entire civilizations expedited by the art trade, confiscations justified through ideology, nationalisations, or en masse disposals of private property.

translocations will carry out necessary foundational research in this field.The translocations project will focus on two main aspects. First, it will examine the moment when a cultural asset in transfer is integrated into public museums and libraries, and the incorporation of that foreign object into a native narrative leads to multiple effects of cross-fertilization across generations. These cross-fertilizations are of a profoundly cultural, intellectual, and aesthetic nature. Secondly, it will examine the moment when feelings of injustice, expropriation, and loss become manifest in societies or interest groups, and questions of ownership, identity, and pride become linked with the displacement of material objects and their insertion into new contexts. translocations approaches this phenomenon independent of the legality or illegality of the respective events. The cluster deals with complex temporalities, uncanny resentments, and various processes of memory. The guiding question will concern the perspective of those who perceive themselves as “dispossessed” across eras and regions, based on any possible construction of identity. This perspective may not always be defined by demand or by grief.

The international translocations team is based at the Technische Universität Berlin’s Department of Modern Art History. Under the direction of Prof. Dr. Bénédicte Savoy, it will operate for an initial period of three years until September 2020. The cluster is funded primarily through the German Research Foundation’s Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, which was awarded to Bénédicte Savoy in 2016.

Further Information:

Project outline

La mémoire restituée des œuvres volées. Entretien avec Bénédicte Savoy, 26 juin 2015

The Recovered Memory of Stolen Works of Art. An interview with Bénédicte Savoy, 22 February 2016


Fundamental Projects

translocations is based on four fundamental collective research projects: a digital atlas, a virtual library, a glossary, and an image repertory on the iconography of translocated cultural goods.

The visualization of web-based mapping will allow us to structure and amalgamate historical events, reaching beyond research into isolated incidents and rendering the extent of translocations tangible.

The library will unite well-known but widely dispersed texts ranging from Cicero to Quatremère de Quincy, Victor Hugo, Carl Einstein, and Kwame Anthony Appiah, thus revealing hidden connections across broad historical and cultural divides.

The glossary will provide a critical historical analysis of terms from different linguistic contexts, investigating their ideological and theoretical implications. 

A database of pictorial sources is the fourth core element of project material: How are seizures, destructions, removals, conquests, new and re-classifications, and translocations actually represented? How is the scene set? What do the places look like where cultural goods are now absent? Our particular attention will be on political iconography and medial means such as documentary and propaganda films and photography, or even amateur internet videos.

Gradually, initial findings of the translocations research will be made visible here. 

Case Studies

translocations will also give an international team of doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers the opportunity to develop individual case studies. The depth of detail of these microhistories will help sharpen our understanding of the trans- and global-historical implications of the displacement of cultural heritage. 




The research cluster translocations concentrates and supplements the research profile of the TU Berlin Department of Modern Art History, which has been developed over the last 15 years. It is also strongly intertwined with the Chair for Cultural History of European Cultural Heritage (18th-20th century) led by Bénédicte Savoy at the Collège de France. In close cooperation with two existing research axes at the institute, Transnational and Transcultural Museum History and Art Market and Provenance Research, the cluster's work will also be directly integrated into student curriculum at the university through research seminar formats. The integration of translocations into the established and dynamic Franco-German research environment will benefit existing and new projects. 


Associated research projects

Dinosaurs in Berlin! Brachiosaurus brancai - a Political, Scientific, and Popular Icon

Supervision: Bénédicte Savoy, Execution: Mareike Vennen  

Dinosaurier in Berlin


Tracing East Asian Art

Supervision: Bénédicte Savoy, Coordination: Christine Howald, Partner: Charlotte Guichard (CNRS/Paris)

Tracing East Asian Art

Repertory: The French Art Market During during German Occupation in World War II

Direction: Berlin (TU): Bénédicte Savoy, Paris (INHA): Eric de Chassey, Scientific Coordination: Berlin (TU): Eyke Vonderau, Paris (INHA): France Nerlich, Project Team: Berlin (TU): Elisabeth Furtwängler, Paris (INHA): N.n.

Repertory French art market




Centre for Art Market Studies

Forum Kunst und Markt / Centre for Art Market Studies
Founding members: Dr. Dorothee Wimmer, Prof. Dr. Bénédicte Savoy, Dr. Johannes Nathan, Director: Dr. Dorothee Wimmer

Centre for Art and Market Studies


Journal for Art Market Studies

The Journal for Art Market Studies is an academic peer-reviewed open-access journal for current international research on the art market of all periods.


translocations-Antenna Paris

At the Collège de France, Léa Saint-Raymond will be in charge of the Paris translocations office. With her, associated young researchers will enrich the cluster's thinking. The translocations antenna Paris will also be strengthened by the bi-national planned research (2017-2019) on National Socialist Art Theft with the INHA. More information coming soon.

Project seminars

The life of images

The aim of the seminar was not for students to gain knowledge, but also to pass on these learned histories of the acquisitions paintings to the public in the form of short "art" slams.

Direction: Prof. Dr. Bénédicte Savoy
The life of images




Appropriation of Art - Perspective of the Expropriated