Off the Wall

updated 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Verdi turned a play (Othello) into an opera (Otello). A big movie (Pirates of the Caribbean) is inspired by a theme-park ride. So who's to say J. Seward Johnson can't reinterpret great works of Impressionist painting as life-size sculptures?

Not the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where 18 of his pieces—based on Renoir, Van Gogh and others—are on display until Jan. 5. And not collectors, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, who pay up to $300,000 for his work.

Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, became an artist four decades ago, after his uncle fired him from the family company where, he says, "I was a flop."

Now 73 and living in Hopewell, N.J., with wife Joyce, Johnson is thrilled about his first museum show: "I've been displayed in hotels, on the sidewalk, but this is the big curtain-raiser." Less enthused are critics. The Washington Post's reviewer called the show "the worst exhibition I've ever seen." But the artist doesn't worry about such slams hurting business. A multimillionaire, he's only in it for the Monet.

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