Projects WordPress as CMS – A WordPress Site Showcasing Fine Art

One of our early clients as Pink & Yellow Media was a small fine arts gallery in West Vancouver called Bellevue Gallery. At the time they were looking for a website that reflected their style and sophistication and that showcased both their past, current and upcoming shows and also the individual artists represented by the gallery. In accordance with the trend at the time we built them a fancy and dynamic Flash-based website that had all the bells and whistles where moving menus, active backgrounds and an interactive experience were concerned. But that was then. Today the web consumer is no longer looking for flashy intros and moving elements – they want content. Immediately. Today’s web consumer expects a search on Google to take them straight to the content they are looking for. And to boot they want to be able to interact with the content, whether it be sending it to a friend by email, posting it on Facebook or raving about it on Twitter. Suffice it to say the art of designing Flash-based web sites is quickly fading to the bright star of dynamic CMS-based sites like those built on WordPress.

A new site is born

After some discussions with the gallery owners it was decided a new site was needed – one that not only drove web users directly to the shows, artists or even art pieces they were looking for, but one that also allowed the gallery to communicate more directly with the visitors through a news page and social media. But most importantly we wanted to create a site the gallery could manage on their own by adding shows, artists and photo galleries and write articles about the everyday goings on in the gallery itself. The natural platform for such a site was WordPress.

Based on the original site we knew we needed a front page, an exhibitions list displaying past, current and future shows, a gallery artist page with sub-pages for each artist, a news section, an artist submissions section, a page with info about the gallery itself and finally a contact page. Since the client is an art gallery and they had a huge number of photos of art pieces we needed to find a solution that would make the artwork easy to display for the owners and easy to navigate and digest for the visitors.

The design of the site needed to stay true to the visual identity of the gallery, built over several years. To help in the design process we brought in Alexandra Oosterom from Fresh Media Designs and she turned out a clean yet stylish look for the site that fit with the parameters we outlined.

Thinking in taxonomies

The challenge when using a CMS is always to come up with rational and logical taxonomies so different elements nest within each other in a rational way. Originally we planned on setting the site up as a huge list of parent and child static pages but that became cumbersome and blocked some of the features we wanted to include. The solution was to set up a parent category called Gallery Artists with a sub category for each of the artists. Because each artist would have a gallery plus a set of info pages (Artist Statement, Biography and Curriculum Vitae) but not all artists would have all the pages we also needed to come up with a way of creating a dynamic menu to display within each artist page that let the visitor jump from page to page quickly. The result was a clever little PHP hook within one of the post templates (yes, this site has 10 different single post templates depending on what category you are viewing and what page you got there from) that queried the parent category of the post (the artist name) and then listed out all the other posts within that category as a menu. This all came together to create a simple and intuitive navigational tool for the visitor.

Using NextGEN Gallery outside the norm

One of the interesting challenges of the site was to create a dynamic gallery artists page that featured the artist name as well as a photo of an art piece and a short bio that would in turn lead to a set of dedicated pages for that individual artist. After playing around with a few different solutions we decided to use the popular NextGEN Gallery plugin as the base for the gallery artist page. This plugin removes the process of image and gallery management from the pages and posts in WordPress and puts it in its own administration area. This makes it easier to manage large ammounts of content as was the case here. The output of NextGEN Gallery is also dymanic so a change in gallery order, image description or artist bio will be reflected on all the pages where that gallery or image is embedded with one change.

We set up one gallery for each artist that was then embedded into a separate post for that artist. To display the list of all the artists on the Gallery Artists page we used the NextGEN Gallery Album function. The problem was that the Album function only points to pages, not posts. To curb this problem we had to go in and rewrite a large bulk of the sourcecode in the plugin. After the fix each artist gallery could be related to any page or post by entering the post ID number.

By Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Morten Rand-Hendriksen is a Senior Staff Instructor at LinkedIn Learning (formerly specializing in AI, bleeding edge web technologies, and the intersection between technology and humanity. He also occasionally teaches at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He is a popular conference and workshop speaker on all things tech ethics, AI, web technologies, and open source.

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