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Unlike Dali or Magritte, who reduced women to the bits gynecologists examine, Mexican surrealist Remedios Varo painted sympathetic portraits of the second sex. Raised in Madrid, Varo did stints in Paris and Barcelona before moving to Mexico in 1941, where she lived on and off until her death in 1963. In the 77-piece exhibition “The Magic of Remedios Varo,” the artist’s first U.S. retrospective, she portrays nymph-like women, androgynous men, sprites, and felines with all the wide-eyed wonder of a 19th-century Symbolist. But like the love child of de Chirico and Simone de Beauvoir, Varo infused her surrealism—based on Freud’s phallocentric psychoanalytic principles—with feminism. In Mimesis (1960), Varo portrays Stepford Wife-like domestic confinement by conflating a woman with the chair she sits on: Her face is patterned with the chair’s fleur-de-lis print; her hands echo the uselessly decorative scrolls on the chair’s arms; her feet, like the chair’s, are dainty pegs. The painting’s furniture is cast in a more active role—one chair leg sifts through an armoire drawer; a table leg curls around a neighboring chair—than Varo’s powerless woman. But this exhibit isn’t a downer: Varo tempers her feminist message with whimsy. Hairy Locomotion (pictured, 1959) takes handlebar mustaches literally: Extra-long beards morph into bicycle wheels steered by gentlemen grasping hirsute handlebars. On view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, to Monday, May 29, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW. $3 (suggested donation). (202) 783-5000. (Jessica Dawson)