This chapter situates Mário Pedrosa’s early theses on Gestalt in relation to his reception of psychiatric patients’ work, in particular Dr. Nise da Silveira’s patients in Rio de Janeiro. As the leading art critic, Pedrosa’s writing on formal autonomy and aesthetic response was foundational to the understanding of geometric abstraction in the 1950s. The author argues that Pedrosa’s theoretical grappling with patients’ work prompted his turn to Heinz Werner’s theorization of physiognomic expression and perception. In doing so, Pedrosa articulates an understanding of abstract geometry as expressive rather than rational or purely visual. Accordingly, this chapter’s discussion of physiognomic Gestalt displaces the well-established alignment of geometric abstraction, modern rationality, and Brazil’s expanding industrialization in the 1950s. The chapter also demonstrates how patients’ creative expression was not uniformly aligned with a surrealist or art informel aesthetic, as continued to be the case in Western Europe.
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