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Restoration challenge for damaged Montgomery metro artwork
The restoration of internationally celebrated Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon’s monumental 150m² painting entitled Magic City is a daunting task with no easy solutions.
Installed in the mid-1970s in Montgomery metro station, it is in poor condition, suffering internal pollution and above all damage linked to water infiltration. And since it is attached permanently to the concrete wall it can’t even be removed to protect it while the metro station undergoes a major renovation between 2026 and 2031.
The work is not landmarked but "is part, like all the works of art in metro and pre-metro stations, of the inventory of regional heritage", explains Elke Van den Brandt, minister for public works and mobility.
"Studies and restorations have been carried out since 1975. The total amount spent on this work since then is €109,000,” she said. “A budget of up to €50,000 was established in 2015. In 2019, specifications were provided for the conservation and preventive maintenance in the amount of €26,000.”
But cleaning the artwork is not enough and in fact can be deleterious. "The problem is the continuous infiltration of water which causes the deterioration of the work," Van den Brandt added. "Where is it coming from? Several tests were carried out by different companies. Two possible causes were explored: the leaking of the Montgomery Square fountain and a possible poor sewer connection.
“But neither one is the culprit. The problem is more general, the entire station is subject to water infiltration and the lasting solution is to achieve the complete waterproofing of the subway cover slab under the roadway.”
A contract for the general cleaning of works of art in metro and pre-metro stations was signed at the end of February but the specific contract for cleaning Magic City has not been released yet because cleaning the work is fraught with possible damage.
“Frequent cleaning of the work is problematic given the fragile nature of the central layer weakened by humidity, hence the establishment of a specific conservation and maintenance contract,” Van den Brandt added.