Mr Serota, director of the Tate Gallery and chairman of the judges for the pounds 20,000 prize for contemporary art, said: "Much of the most challenging work that is being produced in Britain today is by woman artists."
As revealed in The Independent on Monday, the shortlist for the prize consists of installation and video artists Christine Borland, Angela Bulloch, Cornelia Parker and Gillian Wearing.
Last year the Turner Prize shortlist consisted of four men, and Mr Serota and the judges suffered stinging criticism from female critics and artists. But at a press conference yesterday he said this criticism had not influenced the decision this year.
He said: "The jury had no plans at the outset to make a shortlist that was for women artists. There are a number of women artists making very good work. It's not a surprise. It was perhaps a surprise that there were none on the list last year. But the fact that it happens to be four women this year must say something about the emergence of women in British culture over the last 10 years."
There is also, conspicuously, no painter on the list. Mr Serota admitted: "Painters have not figured on the Turner shortlist in the 1990s. It is quite possible they will figure in the next decade.
Another of the judges, Lady Marina Vaizey, said: "Most people feel that the most interesting work is taking place in installation and video work." The other members of the 1997 jury are: Penelope Curtis, curator of the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds; Lars Nittve, director of the Louisiana Museum in Denmark; and Jack Wendler, representative of the Patrons of New Art.
Of this year's shortlist, video artist Gillian Wearing filmed confessions by people wearing grotesque joke shop masks; Cornelia Parker exhibited the actress Tilda Swinton in a glass case; Angela Bulloch had a contraption called Mud Slinger at the Henry Moore studio in Halifax; Christine Borland erected 21 glass panels, on each she placed a group of bones, sprinkled them with dust and then removed them. A spotlight directed at the glass left a negative of the bones on the wall.Reuse content