Alain Locke and the Visual Arts by Kobena Mercer is an enthralling saga of ideas. The centerpiece of the book is a grand consideration of Locke’s The Negro in Art: A Pictorial Record of the Negro Artist and of the Negro Theme in Art (1940), but along the way, Mercer explains the cultural theorist’s ideological battles of the 1920s with W. E. B. Du Bois (Locke counterstated Du Bois’s “all art is propaganda”) and the collector Albert C. Barnes (over African art). It is an indispensable addition to the proliferating scholarship on Locke (1885–1954) and, by extension, to American thought in the twentieth century, with potentially wide-ranging relevance to broader problems of the present. Locke’s composite model of culture still challenges prevailing...


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